01 Oct 2021

In-house compensation rises for small legal department GCs, study finds

​​​​​​​Median base salaries rose almost 8% this year, according to ACC and Empsight survey


In-house counsel at companies with less than $2bn of annual turnover have seen their base salaries, incentives and total cash compensation rise over the past 12 months, according to a new study by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and Empsight.

The 2021 Small Law Department Compensation Survey showed that chief legal officers and general counsel had a median base salary of $270,000 in 2021 compared to $250,500 in 2020. While 30% of CLOs still have a target incentive, the median target incentive amount increased to $75,000 from $50,000 last year, pushing median total cash compensation to $315,000 from $287,500 in 2020.

The survey also found that male CLOs earned almost $20,000 more than their female counterparts, while CLOs that identify as non-minorities earn just over $42,000 more than minority CLOs. Meantime, the data showed that women deputy GCs on average earned $4,457 more than their male counterparts.

Blake Garcia, director of research at ACC, said: “With the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, and in the midst of a tremendous amount of employee transition, this survey is a valuable asset to help department leaders ensure that their compensation, retirement and paid time off remain competitive to retain and attract top-level talent.”

The survey also showed that CLOs in multi-lawyer departments at companies with annual revenue between $1bn and $2bn make 31% more in base salary than CLOs at companies with revenue of $100m or less. At least half of newly created roles within the legal operations job family are eligible for short-term bond incentives, underscoring the growing importance of these roles to the success of the corporate legal function, the ACC said.

Mike Haven, president of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, said: “Legal operations has become indispensable to companies…The function is evolving rapidly from tactical to a strategic leadership role in legal departments across the industry. This [survey] reinforces that.”

Respondents ranked compensation competitiveness as their biggest concern, followed by work flexibility, employee benefits, pay equity and training and development. Executives received on average 5.2 training days per year in 2021, compared to 4.9 days for professionals and 4.3 days for support staff.

Research published recently by Lawyers on Demand found that changes in working practices brought about by the pandemic are leading to greater mutual trust between organisations and their legal teams. The report also indicated that individuals in many legal teams have greater freedom than before in terms of how they manage their day-to-day responsibilities and that output is becoming the basis for evaluation rather than hours worked.