Top Corporate Lawyers Earning More, But Gender Gap Persists

Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Top corporate lawyers saw strong gains in their compensation between 2015 and 2016, but their salary and bonus increases were split along gender lines, according to a report published last week by legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa.

According to the report, total compensation for general counsel increased 9.6 percent (from an average of $395,000 to $433,000) between 2015 and 2016, with much of the bump coming from bonuses, which increased 38 percent during that period.

But compensation for male GCs far outpaced compensation for female GCs, according to the report.

In fact, the total average compensation for female GCs dropped from $396,000 in 2015 to $376,000 in 2016 while the total average for male GCs increased from $394,000 to $456,000 over the same time period.

Much of the disparity can be attributed to bigger bonuses: In 2016, men received an average bonus of $213,000 while women received an average bonus of $147,000. The highest reported bonus for a male GC was $3 million while the highest reported bonus for a woman was $675,000.

Andrea Bricca, a partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s In-House Practice Group, said she believes more research is needed to understand the apparent gender disparity.

“If bonus is based on company performance, then the question is are women looking at and being put in general counsel roles at companies that don’t have a huge profitability or in industries that aren’t doing well?” Bricca told Big Law Business. “And if it’s [based on] performance, who is doing that evaluation and how is that impacting women? Those are unanswered questions we need to look at a little further.”

The data for the report was drawn from in-house counsel surveys and from job placements made by Major, Lindsey & Africa in 2015 and 2016. The report includes salary, bonus, practice area, company revenue, and other information gathered from a total of 500 general counsel and 1707 non-general counsel positions. The most highly represented industries are finance, insurance, real estate, manufacturing, retail trade, services, transportation, and wholesale trade, and the majority of companies fell into the below $1 billion revenue range, the $1-2 billion revenue range or over $5 billion in revenue.

The survey also found that GC compensation rose while other in-house counsel salaries have remained flat. For non-GC jobs, base salaries dropped from an average of $210,000 in 2015 to an average of $208,000 in 2016, according to Major, Lindsey & Africa. The average non-GC bonus dipped from $71,000 in 2015 to $68,000 in 2016.

The difference between GCs and non-GCs can be explained by the continued shift of the GC role into an integral part of the C-suite. GCs are now more likely to be paid like other top corporate executives, who typically earn a larger bonus as a percentage of their base salary.

The shifting nature of the GC role might also affect the gender pay gap at the top of in-house law departments, Bricca said.

“When we talk about general counsel having more of a seat at the table, I wonder if, when women are the general counsel, they are getting the full seat at the table,” she said. “If women general counsel aren’t viewed in that same light, then their compensation wouldn’t necessarily increase at the same rate.”


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