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What Do In-House Attorney Positions Pay?

published December 07, 2015

By Diversity Director - BCG Attorney Search
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Summary: Learn more about what the typical pay is for in-house attorney positions in this article.
What do in-house attorney positions pay?

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 packages, which can balance out a lower take home salary.
Highest Paid General Counsels

The highest paid general counsel of a public company in 2016 was Alan Braverman, the General Counsel of Walt Disney. According to Corporate Counsel’s 2016 General Counsel Compensation Survey, Braverman earned total cash compensation of $7,034,692 and total take-home pay of $11,473,666 in 2016. Braverman was also the highest paid general counsel in 2015.

The industries with the highest paid general counsel in 2016 were the entertainment, energy, and finance industries. After Braverman, the top 10 highest paid general counsel headed up the following legal departments: Energy Transfer Equity, Twenty-First Century Fox, American Express, Apple, Discovery Communications, CBS, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Blackstone Group.

Below is a chart of the compensation of the top 10 highest-paid general counsels:
2016 Rank General Counsel Company 2016 Cash Compensation 2016 Total Take-Home Pay
1 Alan N. Braverman Walt Disney $7,032,692 $11,473,666
2 Thomas P. Mason Energy Transfer Equity $6,857,615 $7,973,255
3 Gerson A. Zwiefach Twenty-First Century Fox $6,325,000 $6,325,000
4 Laureen E. Seeger American Express $5,298,200 $5,298,200
5 Bruce Sewell Apple $5,000,000 $5,000,000
6 Bruce Campbell Discovery Communications $4,325,457 $5,056,910
7 Lawrence P. Tu CBS $3,900,000 $5,093,969
8 Maryanne R. Lavan Lockheed Martin $3,818,214 $7,473,230
9 J. Michael Luttig Boeing $3,658,423 $10,652,120
10 John G. Finley Blackstone Group $3,634,157 $7,046,520

Source: Corporate Counsel

Of the ten highest paid general counsels, both Laureen Seeger (American Express) and Maryanne Lavan (Lockheed Martin) are women
Entertainment Industry Has Highest Paid In-House Lawyers

As indicated by the way Braverman at Walt Disney tops the GC salary chart, the entertainment industry as a whole has the highest paid general counsel. According to one report, the highest earning general counsels in the entertainment industry earned an average of $4,074,286 per year for the period from 2013 to 2016. The highest earning GC’s in diversified financials, commercial banking, and pipelines earned on average the following during that same period: $3,675,151, $3,230,854, and $3,106,545.

Even GC’s who work for more mainstream entertainment industry companies earn significant salaries. According to another report, in 2014 entertainment industry general counsels earned median compensation of $550,500. Other industries that paid high GC compensation were healthcare ($502,500) and extractive/mining/chemicals ($461,400).

When it comes to the highest paid in-house positions for attorneys who are not general counsel, that same report placed entertainment industry on top again, with 2014 median compensation of $294,000. Median compensation for counsel in other industries was as follows: healthcare pays $228,000, extractive/mining/chemicals pays $198,000, technology pays $231,750, consumer products pays $235,000, financial services pays $260,677, education pays $192,500, health system pays $150,000, and not-for-profit pays $125,391.

At the lower end of the spectrum, 2014 median compensation for GC’s in the health system industry was $235,000 and 2014 median compensation for GC’s in the not-for-profit industry was $220,500.
Other General Counsel and In-House Salaries

Needless to say, most attorneys do not earn salaries in the millions of dollars, 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.

Major Cities on Both Coasts 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 October 2016 was $158,081 (1,239 people reporting). The range started at $86,028 ($88,062 including bonuses but not equity) and topped off at $250,263 ($305,614 including bonuses but not equity).

Of those GC’s reporting, the highest paid were located in Irvine, CA, with a median salary of $212,772 (18 reporting). Irvine was followed by San Francisco at $198,837 (33 reporting), New York at $195,472 (94 reporting), Washington, D.C. at $192,418 (26 reporting), Boston at $179,919 (27 reporting), Houston at $176,533 (27 reporting), Los Angeles at $176,024 (28 reporting), Chicago at $172,178 (29 reporting), Philadelphia at $149,912 (17 reporting), and Denver at $135,000 (19 reporting).

The median salary for associate general counsel in all locations was $135,345, with a range from $72,711 ($73,055 including bonuses but not equity) to $205,574 ($235,227 including bonuses but not equity). San Francisco AGC came out on top at $180,870, followed by Washington, D.C. at $160,537, New York at $157,948, Minneapolis at $148,313, and Los Angeles at $99,989.

A third category classified by PayScale as “corporate counsel” netted a median salary of $109,958, with a city breakdown as follows: San Francisco at $132,969, New York at $127,238, Los Angeles at $127,070, Chicago at $120,581, Dallas at $117,966, Boca Raton at $116,721, Seattle at $114,805, and Denver at $103,904.
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 2017 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 $190,250 and $269,500 in 2017. For medium companies, the range will be between $159,750 and $238,250, and for small companies, between $137,500 and $192,750.

For lawyers with zero to three years of experience, the expected salary range will be between $128,500 and $166,750 (large companies) and between $87,000 and $114,500 (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 financials, and in a major city like San Francisco, New York or Washington, D.C.

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: