Senior in-house counsel becoming ‘disengaged’

Times are tough for senior in-house lawyers, but opportunities remain plentiful for others

Companies seeking to slash their legal expenditure have created a challenging climate for senior in-house lawyers.  Salary levels have shrunk or remained static and companies are reducing the size of their legal departments, downgrading positions or resorting to hiring lawyers on a temporary basis.  
Budgets for in-house roles are reportedly particularly tight. “It has to do with cost-cutting.  The legal requirements of a big firm are obviously very expensive,” explained Lisa Delehanty from recruiting firm Hudson. “The general trend is that despite more companies wanting to utilise their in-house legal teams, they are still struggling to find additional funding, particularly for senior lawyers.”
According to the findings of Hudson’s 2014 salary report, an increasing number of senior in-house counsel are becoming disengaged from work as a result of increased pressure on billable targets set by overseas head offices combined with reduced remuneration.  As a result, many are looking to make moves laterally or move overseas.  
Despite the bleak situation for senior in-house counsel, opportunities for junior and mid-level lawyers still exist. Companies are becoming more likely to downgrade positions, choosing to hire at around the three- to eight-year experience level. 
Australian Corporate Lawyers Association CEO Trish Hyde said that overall there are currently more opportunities for lawyers wanting in-house counsel roles then there were five or ten years ago.
“Organisations are becoming more aware of the value in-house counsel deliver by being entwined in the business,” Hyde said.  “Some lawyers are very attracted to the ability to be a part of an organisation, to understand it, influence its performance – to be inside the tent rather than just a transactional relationship.”
There has been a particular increase in demand for in-house counsel in areas including corporate & commercial, industrial relations and employment, investment and financial services, property and construction.
It is estimated that there are currently 14,000 lawyers working in in-house positions – making up approximately 30% of the entire legal profession in Australia.

In–house salaries for NSW in $1000s
Experience 2013 2014
0-1 yrs 67-80 70-85
1-2 yrs 77-92 80-100
2-3 yrs 88-115 95-115
3-4 yrs 93-129 100-130
4-5 yrs 108-149 115-155
5-6 yrs 118-115 120-175
6+ 134-228 135-220
Deputy GC 155-278 150-280
GC 180-300+ 180-300+

While salaries have generally increased in the lower levels of experience, salaries in the higher levels have remained stagnant or have decreased.

Source: Hudson Legal Salary and Employment Insights

Read more: Leading in-house counsel: their biggest law firm frustrations revealed


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