What Do In-House Attorney Positions Pay?

Summary: Learn more about what the typical pay is for in-house attorney positions in this article.
What do in-house attorney positions pay?

If you work in a law firm, you have probably wondered what it would be like to “go in-house” and take a position as an in-house counsel. There are many factors to consider in taking a position in-house, including how it may affect your lifestyle and future career mobility. But what about compensation? How much money can you expect to make as an in-house counsel?
The answer depends on a number of variables, including the type of in-house position you are applying for, the industry and city you will be working in, and the size of the company you are joining. In-house counsel also sometimes receive stock options as part of their compensation package, which can balance out a lower take home salary.
Highest Paid General Counsels

The highest paid general counsel of a public company in 2014 was Alan Braverman, the General Counsel of Walt Disney. According to Corporate Counsel’s 2015 General Counsel Compensation Survey, in 2014 Braverman earned a salary of $1.374 million, a bonus of $5.325 million, and total compensation including exercised stock options of $12.188 million.

The industries with the highest paid general counsel were the entertainment and banking and finance industries. Along with Braverman, the top 10 highest paid general counsel headed up the legal departments of General Electric, Time Warner, Twenty-First Century Fox, The Blackstone Group, Bank of America, Boeing, CBS, Google and Viacom Inc.

Below is a chart that includes a breakdown of the top 10 highest-paid general counsel in 2015. The ranking is based on the total amount of cash compensation they received in 2014. This includes bonus and salary compensation but does not include any stock options or stock value realized.
2015 Rank 2014 Rank General Counsel Company 2014 Cash Compensation 2014 Total Take-Home Pay
1 6 Alan Braverman Walt Disney $6,699,231 $12,187,532
2 1 Brackett Denniston General Electric $6,096,000 $6,096,000
3 4 Paul Cappuccio Time Warner $5,864,715 $11,926,832
4 3 Gerson Zweifach 21st Century Fox $5,500,000 $5,500,000
5 5 John Finley Blackstone Group $4,331,393 $7,684,393
6 2 Gary Lynch Bank of America Corp. $4,272,814 $6,458,222
7 - J. Michael Luttig Boeing $4,236,580 $5,792,154
8 - Lawrence Tu CBS $4,204,615 $4,204,615
9 9 David Drummond Google $4,150,000 $10,862,679
10 7 Michael Fricklas Viacom $4,067,500 $7,402,929
Source: Corporate Counsel

The highest paid female general counsel was Maryanne Lavan, of Lockheed Martin, who earned $2.724 million in total cash compensation. Lavan’s compensation placed her in the number eleven spot of the highest paid general counsel.
Other General Counsel and In-House Salaries

Needless to say, most attorneys do not earn the salaries described above, whether they work in law firms or for companies and whether they are GC’s or regular corporate counsel. But the good news is that most in-house attorneys still make very decent livings. An attorney transitioning to an in-house position in a major city can expect to earn a salary of over $100,000.

Entertainment Industry Has Highest Paid In-House Lawyers

As might be indicated by the way Braverman tops the GC salary chart at Walt Disney, the entertainment industry as a whole has the highest paid general counsel. According to one report, general counsel in the entertainment industry earned median compensation (base salary plus bonus) of $550,500. General counsel in the healthcare industry came in second, with median compensation of $502,500. GC’s in the extractive/mining/chemicals industry came in third at $461,400.

At the lower end of the spectrum, the median compensation for GC’s in the health system industry was $235,000, and the not-for-profit industry $220,500.

When it came to the highest paying in-house positions in 2014 for attorneys who were not general counsel, the entertainment industry again came out on top, with median compensation of $294,000. GC median compensation for other industries was as follows: healthcare $228,000, extractive/mining/chemicals $198,000, technology $231,750, consumer products $235,000, financial services $260,677, education $192,500, health system $150,000, and not-for-profit $125,391.
New York, San Francisco and Seattle Have Higher Paying In-House Salaries

Another source of data for general counsel salaries is PayScale, a website that tabulates salaries among various positions and industries based on voluntary surveys. According to PayScale, the median general counsel salary in the United States as of September 2015 was $149,717. The range started at $77,890 ($79,636 including bonuses) and topped off at $238,766 ($285,326 including bonuses).

Of those GC’s reporting, the highest paid were located in New York, with a median salary of $195,013. New York was followed by San Francisco at $194,834, and then Houston at $174,984, Boston at $166,334, Chicago at $154,380, Los Angeles at $154,199, Seattle at $146,847, Salt Lake City at $131,789, and Austin at $105,692.

The median salary for associate general counsel in all locations was $133,990, with a range from $72,998 ($74,251 including bonuses) to $204,404 ($245,022 including bonuses). San Francisco AGC came out on top at $179,009, followed by Houston at $157,168, New York at $151,389, and Chicago at $113,850. Data is not available for Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Austin.

A third category classified by PayScale as “corporate counsel” netted a median salary of $108,064, with a city breakdown as follows: Seattle at $142,631, San Francisco at $140,205, New York at $128,803, Houston at $118,206, Boston at $108,391, and Chicago at $110,778.
The Larger the Company, the Larger the Salary

Not surprisingly, in-house lawyers working for larger companies can expect to earn more money than their counterparts in smaller companies, according to the 2016 Robert Half Salary Guide for the Legal Field. That survey projects that lawyers with ten or more years experience working for large companies will earn between $185,250 and $259,750 in 2016. For medium companies, the range will be between $149,000 and $231,250, and for small companies, between $130,750 and $187,500. For lawyers with zero to three years of experience, the expected salary range will be between $125,750 and $160,250 (large companies) and between $82,250 and $112,750 (small companies).

If going in-house is right for you, you can expect to earn a decent living, especially if you will be assuming the role of general counsel, working in an industry like entertainment or healthcare, and in a major city like New York, San Francisco or Seattle.

Please see the following articles for more information about attorney salaries:

Please see the following articles for more information about general counsel and in-house positions:

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