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Corporations across the country have beefed up many of their in-house lawyers’ salaries and bonuses, according to a survey conducted by consulting firm Altman Weil. The increases this year extend beyond chief legal officers to lower-ranked and non-managerial positions, says Milwaukee-based James Wilber, who heads up Altman Weil’s services to corporate law departments. The study, now in its 25th year, noted that chief legal officers, their deputies and division general counsel saw increases of between 5 and 8 percent. (The median legal salary for chief legal officers this year is $275,000.) Other senior attorney positions were up between 4 and 5 percent. But the survey also indicated that recent graduates’ salaries declined by 1.5 percent, and staff attorney salaries decreased by more than 3 percent compared to the year before. Despite a few declining numbers, Wilber says he senses companies are ready to spend more on their in-house departments. “In general we’ve seen an uptick in the economy. And this is more optimism that companies are going to be doing better,” Wilber says. Not only is compensation beginning to increase, but also companies are likely to hire more lawyers as well, Wilber says. “I think that’s going to be the inevitable result of this,” he says. Wilber says many legal departments are in the process of returning to the hiring levels of five or six years ago. In part, it’s a cost-saving measure: Companies are realizing they can save money by keeping work in-house instead of farming it out. For his part, Jeffrey Lowe, head of the D.C. office of the recruiting firm Major, Hagen & Africa, says he has seen little change for in-house salaries. But, he says, “I think the big change is the increase in the number of attorneys being hired.” Recruiting in-house attorneys represents one-third of Major, Hagen’s business, Lowe says. Wilber also notes a longer-term trend: Companies are offering fewer guaranteed salaries. Pay is increasingly reliant on bonuses tied to the performance of each individual and the company. Along those same lines, the survey did show double-digit increases in bonuses. Chief legal officers, whose median annual bonus was $120,000, showed the smallest increase at about 5 percent. The bonuses for other positions spiked by 14 to 45 percent. The median bonus for division general counsel: $78,750. And senior attorneys with more than eight years’ experience received $22,000.

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