Accessibility Links

In-house lawyers 'deserve more'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 03/06/14

A new report has suggested that in-house lawyers, rather than adopting a Zen-like pose of serenity and inaction, are as entangled in the Tantalusian struggle of late period capitalism as the rest of the Western world.

Surprisingly for anyone who has been living in a small garden shed for the last 50 years, general counsel feel that they deserve bigger bonuses and higher basic salaries for their work.

Research carried out by Legal Week found that, despite some GCs at multinationals like Google making headlines recently for their big wage packets, there is still a feeling that in-house lawyers are underpaid compared to their Italian loafer-wearing counterparts in private practice.

Some 42 per cent of respondents described the pay gap between sectors as slight, while 19 per cent considered the difference to be a substantial one.

Only 7.5 per cent expressed the feeling that general counsel were overpaid compared to other senior corporate roles.

"Over the last 20 or so years, in-house legal work has diverged significantly from private practice, and become more demanding and intense," one respondent explained.

They argued that GCs can struggle to explain what they actually do in terms of adding value to a business, which makes it harder to push for bigger wages and bonuses.

Given the increasing credence being given to issues around sustainability, governance and reputation - all areas where in-house lawyers can step up and play a big role - this could change over the coming years.

Candace Kendall, a consultant who has worked as an in-house lawyer at Motorola and Skandia as well as in private practice with DLA Piper, argued that top-tier GCs will tend to be paid accordingly.

"When you get to the top echelons, you are fishing in quite a small pool of people who can handle the role, accepting responsibility and accountability for such large organisations,"  she declared.

Whether this trend will trickle down to help out lower-level in-house lawyers is yet to be seen, although given that we don't live in a socialist utopia my personal feeling is that this is extremely unlikely.