ACC's Law Dept. Compensation Survey: More In-House Spending

By William Peacock, Esq. on November 22, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The ACC's 2013 Annual Law Department Compensation Survey's results are in, and it's good news for in-house legal departments. As some might expect from all the bad news in BigLaw, spending on outside counsel is down overall, and in-house spending is up. Departments of all sizes are seeing modest salary increases, and in another unsurprising note, the bigger the in-house legal department, the more the general counsel's base salary is on average.

What else did the survey find? Read on.

Large Departments

This portion of the respondents includes departments with an average revenue size in excess of $32 billion, and included more than 170 participating companies. The key findings for large departments included:

  • The money is in Media: General counsel for entertainment and media companies made 2.1 times the median base salary overall for GCs.
  • School rank still matters: Senior attorneys, presumably many years removed from school, that graduated from top-20 law schools, make a base salary that is 18.2 percent higher than those from non-top 20 schools.
  • Size also matters: GCs in department of 51 or more make 30.8 percent more in base salary over GCs in 10 person or fewer departments.

Mid-Market Departments

The mid-market respondents included 83 participating companies with an average revenue of just a tick more than $2 billion, and a range of $750 million to $4 billion. The findings include:

  • Energy earns: GCs working in the energy sector made 1.21 times the median base salary.
  • School rank matters even more: In large departments, school rank mattered. In mid-market departments, it really, really matters. Top 20 school alums earned a base salary that was 31.4 percent higher for GCs than those from non-top 20 schools.
  • Size matters, again: GCs managing a department of 10 or more people make a 77.3 percent premium over those handing a 2-3 person department.

Small Departments

The final group of companies included companies with revenues of $750 million or less. And the findings there included:

  • Casinos and Real Estate rule: For single-attorney departments, those employed by casinos and hotels earned a modest bump over the median, a 1.07 times the base salary. But for multiple-lawyer environments, real estate was king, paying 1.25 times the base salary.
  • Rank rules: Again, no surprise, but top-20 grads out earned in total cash compensation (base salary, bonuses, etc.) in both multi-lawyer environments and single-lawyer environments, at 24.4 and 15.5 percent, respectively.
  • Size matters (less): GCs in multi-lawyer environments with five or more people make 11.4 percent more in base salary than those in two-person departments.

Overall Impressions

The most notable trend was that 55 percent of companies cut outside legal spending, a finding echoed by Robert Half's survey that we peeked at earlier this week.

Other interesting trends included a major uptick in real estate spending. Both inside and outside counsel spending is up, with outside spending increasing by nearly 30 percent, and inside increasing by 3.9 percent.

For individual attorneys, Industry-wide, the highest compensation for GCs were found in positions with media, pharmaceutical, financial services, real estate, and energy companies. The survey also reports a major growth in regulatory and compliance specialty positions.

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