In-house counsel see total compensation jump by more than a fifth in 2021, study finds

Male GCs and senior counsel out-earned their female counterparts, according to BarkerGilmore

In-house counsel in the US saw total compensation increase by more than a fifth last year as competition for talent heats up, according to a new report by BarkerGilmore.

The 2022 In-House Counsel Compensation Report showed overall compensation had risen by 21%, driven by pay bumps for lawyers working for financial services companies (27%) and consumer businesses (21%). In total, overall base pay rose by 9%, bonuses by 37% and LTI (long-term incentives) by 100%. LTIs include benefits such as stock options and performance shares. 

Those pay increases come as companies scrambled to keep hold of the best talent. Some 12% of respondents took up new positions last year – a 50% increase on 2020. More than a third of those (37%) received a sign-on bonus. Senior counsel were most likely to get a sign-on bonus (41%), with the average size of that bonus coming in at $20,000. GCs were least likely to get a sign-on bonus (33%), however the average size of that bonus was significantly higher at $75,000. 

Male GCs earned slightly more than female GCs across base pay, bonuses and LTI, with average compensation clocking in at $574,000 for men and $538,000 for women. Female managing counsel, however, were paid slightly more than men, with total compensation averaging $379,000 compared to $378,000. Men were also paid more than women for senior counsel roles, taking home $282,000 on average compared to $252,000.

In-house counsel in areas including banking and finance and labour and employment were most likely to be very highly motivated by compensation when moving jobs (19%). In-house counsel who have been with their current employer since between 1995 and 1999, and 2000 to 2004, were also the most likely to be very highly motivated by compensation when looking for a new position (16%). 

The report authors wrote: “Competition to attract and retain talent reached new levels in 2021. Recruiting and retaining top talent was, and continues to be, the strongest indicator of a company’s culture, benefits and success. No industry or position type was immune to the challenges of the candidate-driven market in 2021.”

Listed energy company GCs earned the most in total compensation, taking home on average $1.12m. Listed professional services GCs earned the least, taking home $820,000 on average. Publicly listed companies paid their GCs on average 98% more than GCs in private companies. For instance, private energy company GCs took home $498,000 on average, less than half of what their publicly-traded peers pocketed.


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