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General counsel will be pleased to hear that their compensation is continuing to increase, according to a new report, with bonuses growing drastically from 2015 to 2016. But there’s a discouraging side to the data too— there continues to be a gender pay gap at all levels in legal departments.

The 2017 In-House Counsel Compensation Report from legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa looked at compensation data from more than 2,200 in-house counsel (including 500 GCs and chief legal officers) between 2015 and 2016. The study reveals that general counsel during this period saw a 9.6 percent increase in total compensation, with base salaries increasing a little over 1 percent and bonuses growing by a whopping 38 percent.

The boost in GC compensation reflects the ongoing trend in which top in-house lawyers are more often considered integral parts of the senior management team, said Andrea Bricca, a partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s in-house practice group. “The general counsel plays a more important role, and so their stature within the organization increases,” Bricca explained.

But not all in the legal department are faring as well as GCs, according to the report. For those in the lower ranks, both base salaries and bonuses dipped slightly from 2015 to 2016, with the former dropping around $2,000, based on average salaries in both years, and the latter decreasing by about $3,000. Bricca said it’s not unique to legal that there’s been “a stagnation of wages in the kind of middle of organizations.”

She added, however, that this year, she expects to see an uptick in compensation numbers for attorneys in the lower ranks of the legal department because they are more in demand, which means more leverage for negotiating pay.

Even as general counsel compensation climbs overall, the report also reveals that at all levels, female in-house counsel are making far less than their male in-house counterparts. At the GC level in 2016, total compensation for men was 17.5 percent higher than for women, and male base salaries were 6.3 percent higher than those of female GCs. What’s more, bonuses for male GCs were 31 percent higher than those of female GCs, with the highest male bonus coming in at $3 million, compared to the top female bonus of $675,000.

In other roles in the legal department, female in-house counsel made 8.2 percent less than male in-house attorneys in 2016.

One reason for the disparity is likely that in the legal profession, whether at law firms or corporations, there are fewer women than men in senior positions, Bricca said. Another contributing factor might be that women aren’t always as apt to ask for a raise as men are, she said, adding that in some situations, men show more of a willingness to work in companies with higher risks, which can translate to higher financial rewards.

Additional findings from the report include:

• Industry makes a difference. Highly regulated and specialized industries seem to be willing to pay more for in-house counsel, as GCs working in the public utilities and transportation industries and the finance/real estate/insurance industries showed some of the highest compensation increases.

• Company revenue matters. Those in legal departments at companies with more than $3 billion in revenue made significantly more than in-house counsel at companies at the lower end of the spectrum.

• More experience = more money? The report also showed that at the GC level, additional years of experience does not necessarily result in increased pay.


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