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In-house legal jobs salary increasing in US

Posted by: Laurence Simons 29/11/12

Who needs money? You can't spend memories. You can't buy the sensation of diving into the sea at dawn, waves crashing over your head as you swim against the current, your heart pounding like a tribal drum. You can't put the love and respect of your children on your credit card.

On the other hand, money can buy goods, services and property, so it's fair to say that those in US in-house legal careers will be pleased by the 2012 HBR Law Department Survey showing that remuneration in this sector has increased modestly over the course of the year.

Having surveyed a spread of lawyers and non-attorney staff, HBR found that 69 per cent of firms revealed pay packets for their in-house counsel grew, while 19 per cent had kept compensation levels steady. In addition to base salary, this takes into account cash bonuses awarded to lawyers for good performance.

The average salary increase recorded by the survey was 3.3 per cent, up from the jump of 2.9 per cent seen in last year's report, indicating that wage hikes for in-house lawyers are not necessarily impacted by macroeconomic conditions.

Lawyers working as general counsel enjoyed an especially successful year, picking up a 6.1 per cent increase in base salary and an 18.3 per cent rise in cash bonuses.

With long-term incentives such as shares included in the boost, GCs saw their total compensation jump by an impressive average of 21.8 per cent, hopefully ensuring they will no longer need to steal a pen from the bookmakers every morning and put shoe polish on their ankles instead of buying a new pair of socks.

HBR senior director Lauren Chung admitted that the growth is not dramatic but nevertheless represents a "substantial" boost.

"Many companies have lifted salary freezes and bonus levels appear to be approaching pre-recession levels. The outlook for the in-house market seems promising with law departments focusing on increasing their internal staff and with improvements in compensation levels," she added.

Modest increases are also expected over the course of 2013, although no rapid growth is anticipated.

However, there's no such thing as a free lunch unless you work in a restaurant and one of the reasons that in-house pay structures are expanding is that the workload involved is increasing rapidly as lawyers are asked to take on a more corporately-engaged role.

A recent report from KPMG revealed that the complicated world of regulatory compliance is making it necessary for many businesses to ask their in-house counsel to help them form boardroom policy and avoid any potential issues that could occur further down the line.