US in-house counsel earn 21% more in 2021 than 2020: Barker Gilmore study

Twelve percent of survey respondents achieved a new position in 2021

US in-house counsel earn 21% more in 2021 than 2020: Barker Gilmore study

2021 was a strong year for in-house counsel compensation in the US, according to new data from boutique executive search firm BarkerGilmore. The annual 2022 In-House Counsel Compensation Report found that the median total compensation for in-house lawyers increased 21 percent from 2020 for all industries, across all positions.

Total compensation from 2020 to 2021 reflects a bounce back, and net increase, of 10 percent from 2019 levels. Base compensation was up nine percent, and bonuses were up 37 percent. The financial industry realized the greatest total compensation increase at 27 percent, followed by consumer at 21 percent, and professional services at 20 percent.

“Retaining and recruiting top talent was a focus for every company in 2021 as business demands escalated even further than 2020,” said John Gilmore, founding partner of BarkerGilmore. “The candidate-driven market prevailed in compensation packages, employer flexibility, and company culture. Companies lacking in any one of these areas certainly faced challenges. I couldn’t be prouder of my team and its ability to deliver diverse slates of business-minded lawyers and compliance professionals, no matter what the circumstances.”

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Other key trends revealed by the report include:

  1. New positions: Twelve percent of respondents obtained a new position in 2021, a 50 percent increase from 2020. Thirty-seven percent of new legal positions received sign-on bonuses. Senior counsel were the most likely to receive a sign-on bonus at 41 percent percent. General counsel were the least likely to receive a sign-on bonus (33 percent); however, the general counsel median sign-on bonus was significantly higher than that of managing counsel and senior counsel.
  2. Law School Rank: Respondents at all levels had higher total compensation if they went to a Top 100 law school. Total compensation averaged 25 percent higher for general counsel, 19 percent higher for managing counsel, and 12 percent higher for senior counsel if the respondent obtained their J.D. from a Top 100 law school.
  3. Public vs. Private: Consistent with the last five years, 2021 revealed that the compensation of those at publicly traded companies is significantly higher than at private organizations. The gap is most significant at the general counsel level, with a 98 percent disparity in total compensation. Across all position levels, restricted stock units continue to be the most common form of long-term incentive compensation at public companies. In private organizations, if a long-term incentive is offered, the structure is much more variable and may come in the form of stock options or restricted cash.

The data was collected from a random sample of in-house counsel throughout the US via an online survey administered between March and April 2022.

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