In the Middle: How Much Do In-House Attorneys Earn?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 22, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There's a theory that once you go in-house, you can never go back. There are enough attorneys who have made the switch between the two to suggest that theory isn't absolute, but it should still factor into a prospective in-house attorney's considerations before making the jump.

Will you be satisfied with your salary if you can't go back to a law firm? How will your in-house pay compare to that of your peers on the cusp of making partner?

We recently compared entry-level and early years' salaries between in-house counsel and traditional practitioners. Based on those numbers, going corporate looked like a good bet. Today, we're moving on to in-house counsel salaries during the fourth through ninth years of practice.

For 2013, the Robert Half Legal 2013 Salary Guide predicts that licensed lawyers with four-to-nine years of experience will make between $69,750 and $204,500 at law firms. Here are the breakdowns by firm size:

  • Large law firm (75+ attorneys): $146,000 - $204,500
  • Midsize law firm (35-75 lawyers): $119,750 - $178,250
  • Small/midsize law firm (10-35 lawyers): $87,250- $157,500
  • Small law firm (up to 10 lawyers): $69,750 - $128,000.

While small/midsize firm attorneys enjoyed a 4.9 percent increase over 2012, large firm attorneys only saw a 3.9 percent increase.

In-house lawyers with the same amount of experience made between $102,500 and $187,750, a 3.9 percent change from 2012.

This is the point at which the quality of life consideration weighs more heavily on the decision to go in-house. The top of the four-to-nine year in-house bracket is $16,750 less than the top of the large firm bracket. If a BigLaw attorney works 10 hours more than an in-house attorney each week, we're talking about an additional 520 hours per year. Divide that total by the $16,750, and the salary difference comes to about $32 per hour or $322 per week.

Granted, the nearly $17,000 difference is significant, but -- when you're already talking about a six-figure salary -- it may not be enough to compensate for the stress of billable hours.

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