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Bar News - November 23, 2007

Compensation for In-House Lawyers Up Sharply, Says Recent Survey

The newly issued 2007 Altman Weil Law Department Compensation Benchmarking Survey, published with LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell®, reports that total cash compensation for in-house lawyer positions in U.S. corporate law departments has risen across the board.


“In-house lawyers in management positions saw their total compensation rise between 8% and 14% this year, while non-management lawyers took home from 4.5% to 23% more,” noted Altman Weil principal James Wilber.  “These increases, even after adjusting them for inflation, were very solid.  Generally, as in recent years, base salary increases were relatively modest, with bonuses increasing more than salaries,” he said.


Management Positions


Chief Legal Officer (CLO) salaries rose 5.8% to a median $300,000 in 2007, supplemented by a whopping 43% increase in bonus dollars of $157,400 according to the survey.  Total cash compensation for CLOs was up 14.3% overall.


Division General Counsel earned 10.2% more in salary at $232,000, plus a median $104,600 bonus, for a 13.7% increase in total compensation.   Managing Attorneys salaries rose 4.6% to a median $179,900, augmented by $50,200 bonus – up 8.2% in total cash compensation from the prior year. 


Deputy CLOs saw a slight dip in salary, down 1.7% to $215,000, but ended up ahead by 9.6% in total cash comp with an $84,000 median bonus.


Non-Management Lawyers


Lawyers in non-management positions also saw solid increases in total compensation.  High Level Specialists earned 6.4% more in salary, at a median $168,000, plus a 5% bump in bonus dollars of $44,000, for an increase in total cash compensation of 5.1%. 


Senior Attorneys (non-managers with eight or more years’ experience) took home 4.5% more in total cash compensation; Attorneys (with four or more years of experience) earned 11.2% more; and, Staff Attorneys (attorneys with at least one year of experience) saw an increase of 23%.  Recent graduates earned 10.8% more overall in 2007, reporting a median salary of $70,600, plus $4,000 bonus. 


Stock Options


Stock options represent non-cash payments that can more than double the value of an in-house lawyer’s total compensation package for those who receive them.  Options for Chief Legal Officers had a median fair market value of $900,800 in 2007, down 2% from the prior year’s survey, but still worth more than twice the same group’s total cash compensation.  Stock options for other management positions range in value from 79% to 92% of their total cash compensation.  Non-management lawyers report median option values of between 33% and 49% of their cash compensation.


Some Key Variables


Size of law department is a key factor in top officer compensation.  Chief Legal Officers in departments with over 25 lawyers took home $645,000 or 56.6% more than the national median in total cash compensation for all CLOs.  At the other end of the spectrum, CLOs in one-lawyer departments earned total cash compensation of $201,500, only a little over half the national median.


In non-management positions, practice specialty is a significant differentiator.  “In this era of increasing compliance complexity and shareholder activism, it is not surprising corporations are paying a premium for attorneys with in-demand practice specialties,” commented John Lipsey, Vice President of Corporate Counsel Services for Martindale-Hubbell. “For example, high level specialists with securities expertise earn top dollar, 21.8% more than the national median in total cash compensation.”


For Senior Attorneys, Attorneys and Staff Attorneys, a Copyright, Trademark or Patents specialty is the most lucrative. 


For further information, visit Altman Weil Publications ( or LexisNexis® (




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