Do In-House Lawyers Still Get Bonuses?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on November 23, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In-house counsel have seen their fortunes rise and fall with American business, almost as predictably as the stock market. Right. Right?

Obviously, it is hard to predict or even monitor the ups-and-downs of the economy, especially in terms of the pay of in-house counsel. They are bound by ethics and law not to reveal certain aspects of their clients' businesses, and they are often unwilling to share information about their compensation. Yet they are inherently curious about how much others are making, and so anonymous surveys can give some insights into trends in their compensation.

It's Probably $225,000 and Rising

According to analysis of an informal survey, in-house counsel receive an average target bonus of 21.68% annually. That is in addition to an average annual salary of $185,627. If you are keeping score, that means in-house counsel earn an average of $225,870 a year, not including stock or other benefits.

The survery results came as a response to an article by Mark Herrmann, chief counsel for Aon and writer for Above the Law. Herrmann asked readers to respond via comments to his online blog, A Survey of In-House Base Pay and Bonuses.

Herrman conceded that his anonymous survey would not be "scientifically accurate, of course, but a collection of anecdotes begins to feel like evidence."

Old but a Good Start

The survey results are about two years old, but provide a base for consideration. The responses included comments from older and newer lawyers working for large Fortune 100 companies and small privately-held businesses. The highest paid lawyer worked for an entertainment company and made as much as $325,000; the lowest-paid attorney was the only lawyer working for a mid-size company and made $52,5000 -- with a bonus of $200. This wide spectrum, incidentally, is also seen in private practice.

While comments to blogs online may not be "scientifically accurate" surveys, they do offer a taste of reality. They can be informative and sometimes acerbic, too.

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