In-house counsel salaries across every industry took a hit in 2020 as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact, according to the latest compensation survey by executive search firm BarkerGilmore.
The 2021 In-House Counsel Compensation Report polled nearly 2,500 in-house counsel at various levels of seniority from both the public and private sector in the United States. According to the online survey, conducted from February to April, all industries “saw the lowest base salary increases of the last five years.”
The average annual salary increase for all positions across industries was down to 3.5 percent in 2020 (from 4.4 percent in 2019). The top three industries with the highest average salary increase, by 3.7 percent, were the energy, financial, and technology sectors; the consumer, healthcare/life sciences, industrial/manufacturing, and professional services industries all averaged 3.5 percent or less.
Hiring trends: Even as companies in healthcare and life sciences were among those with the lowest salary increases, these sectors also saw a “stark increase in hiring initiatives,” BarkerGilmore noted. The report cites the strain the pandemic placed on healthcare providers, the race for a vaccine, and the unique regulatory challenges that unfolded over the past year as reason for this trend.
Broadly, in-house counsel hiring “continued steadily throughout the last year,” the report states.
Public vs. private: Consistent with the last five years of data from BarkerGilmore, compensation of in-house counsel at publicly traded companies was “significantly higher” compared to those at private organizations in 2020. This gap is most significant at the general counsel level, with a 52 percent disparity in total compensation.
In-house counsel are encouraged to review these findings in combination with Equilar’s “General Counsel Pay Trends” report. That report analyzes general counsel compensation data disclosed in Securities and Exchange Commission filings by the 500 largest (by revenue) U.S.-headquartered companies that trade on one of the three major U.S. stock exchanges.
Law school rankings: This year’s BarkerGilmore report for the first time included new data revealing what impact law school ranking and Am Law 100 experience has on in-house counsel compensation. Respondents at all levels had higher total compensation if they went to a Top 100 law school.
Total compensation averaged 25 percent higher for general counsel, 19 percent higher for senior counsel, and 15 percent higher for managing counsel if the respondent obtained his or her J.D. from a Top 100 law school.
On average, in-house counsel with Am Law 100 experience had total compensation packages that were 35 percent greater than those with no law firm experience.
“Our clients consistently demand exceptional talent with law firm experience from top ranked law schools,” BarkerGilmore stated in its report. “The data from this year’s report demonstrates that this caliber of talent and education demands higher compensation at all levels, especially for general counsel.”
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