In-house counsel salaries across every industry bounced back in 2021 from the doldrums of the pandemic, with a competitive jobs market forcing recruiters to offer more bonuses, according to the latest compensation survey by executive search firm BarkerGilmore.
Close to 2,500 in-house counsel were polled as part of the 2022 In-House Counsel Compensation Report, spanning various seniority levels from both the public and private sector in the United States. Conducted between March and April, the online survey found bonuses at all in-house position types “increased drastically from 2020 levels.”
The median total compensation for all industries and positions increased 21 percent from 2020, and total compensation from 2020 to 2021 bounced back with a net increase of 10 percent from 2019. Base compensation rose 9 percent, bonuses 37 percent, and long-term incentives 100 percent, the survey found. The top three industries with the greatest total compensation increases were financial (27 percent), consumer (21 percent), and professional services (20 percent).
Hiring trends: After salary increases declined in 2020 due to the strain of the pandemic, work-from-home flexibility gave many candidates the bargaining power to ask for the “total package,” the report noted, with smart companies “stepp[ing] up their retention efforts with bonuses and long-term compensation incentives.”
The survey found 12 percent of respondents obtained a new position in 2021, a 50 percent increase from 2020, while 37 percent of new legal positions received sign-on bonuses. Senior counsel were most likely to receive a sign-on bonus at 41 percent. The least likely to receive a sign-on bonus were general counsel at 33 percent, but the general counsel median sign-on bonus was “significantly higher than that of managing counsel and senior counsel,” the report noted.
Public vs. private: Compensation of those at publicly traded companies was significantly higher in 2021 than at private organizations, which was consistent with the last five years of data from BarkerGilmore. General counsel had the most significant gap, with a 98 percent disparity in total compensation. Across all position levels, restricted stock units continue to be the most common form of long-term incentive compensation at public companies, the report found, while private companies often rewarded stock options or restricted cash.
Law school rankings: For the second year in a row, BarkerGilmore included data revealing what impact law school ranking and Am Law 100 experience had on in-house counsel compensation. Respondents at all levels had higher total compensation if they went to a Top 100 law school, the survey found.
If the respondent obtained his or her J.D. from a Top 100 law school, total compensation averaged 25 percent higher for general counsel, 19 percent higher for managing counsel, and 12 percent higher for senior counsel.
On average, in-house counsel with Am Law 100 experience had total compensation packages that were 34 percent greater than those with no law firm experience, according to the report.