UK GCs' take home pay significantly lags the rest of the world, study finds

Major Lindsey & Africa survey also shows huge disparity in gender pay globally

UK-based GCs are earning significantly less than their global counterparts, according to a new study by legal recruitment firm Major Lindsey & Africa. 

Chief legal offices and GCs in the UK take home base salaries that are around $60,000 lower than the global average. Pay has also been rising at a much slower clip in the broader Europe, Middle East and Africa region, with salary growth hitting just 2% since 2020 compared to 15% in the US. GCs in EMEA and Asia Pacific earn $354,000 a year on average in total compensation (including bonuses), compared to $578,000 in the US. Part of the reason for that disparity is down to the elevated role GCs have in US boardrooms compared to the UK.

Naveen Tuli, managing partner at Major Lindsey & Africa, said: “While increasingly in the US, general counsel and chief legal officers have a seat at the boardroom, and even report directly to the CEO, here in the UK in-house lawyers are generally not as close to heart of the corporate web, which directly and negatively impacts pay structure.”

That is changing, says Tuli, as UK companies start to mirror the trajectory of US firms and expand the role of in-house lawyers.

He added: “Increasingly, GCs are cementing their position more centrally within the C-suite, acting as integral strategic advisers and even as potential successors to the CEO. As UK GCs continue to extend their remit beyond solely risk management, it would be natural for expectations around compensation to evolve in tandem.”

Meantime, a significant gender pay gap persists at GC level. In the US, male legal heads earn almost $82,000 a year more in total compensation than their female peers, while in the EMEA and APAC regions, the difference is even more stark, with men taking home $137,000 more a year on average.

Tanja Albers, a partner at Major Lindsey & Africa, said: “We must break down the stigma surrounding pay, particularly in negotiations on bonuses which are more likely to help close the gap on variable compensation.”

There were also large disparities in pay according to industry. GCs at energy and public utility companies earned the most globally (more than $800,000 a year on average), followed by GCs at banks and retailers (just over and under $700,000 annually respectively). By contrast, GCs working in government departments earned the least at just over $200,000 a year.

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