In-house road to big bonus bucks

GC rewards outpace private practice as competition for top lawyers intensifies

Everyone likes to pipe up when it comes to money so, following the news that Davis Polk & Wardwell is breaking into the London trainee market with a scheme that will offer a newly qualified salary of £100,000, let’s poke our noses in-house.

According to a recent study by Incomes Data Services (IDS), the salaries of in-housers vary hugely by sector. Unsurprisingly, those in finance get the fattest pay cheques – a head of legal in a financial institution got an average bonus of £152,485 in the year ending September 2013, compared with £3,750 for those in the public sector.

Of the 83 companies surveyed, 30 per cent had frozen the salaries of legal heads in the past year, up from 13 per cent the year before. This means that the average in-house salary from a list covering a range of sectors and regions stands at £138,000, with deputy general counsel on £95,450 and senior legal advisers on £76,171.

Just as private practice has a wide range of salary bands, with a newly qualified solicitor at one firm being on the same salary as a partner at another, so does in-house. While the average salary of a general counsel in Britain is estimated to be around £138,000, one company pays its top lawyer £500,000. And if that lawyer is at a financial institution, they may then get a tasty bonus of £152,485 on top. 

Money-seekers out there, does the path to gold peak in-house? A number of senior partners have quit for financial institutions this year, including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer global managing partner Ted Burke for Arclight Capital Partners and Reed Smith global managing partner Greg Jordan for PNC Financial Services. 

“In some instances we’re seeing similar base salaries offered [by private practice and in-house], but when bonus and benefit packages are included, in-house total reward packages can be higher,” said Towers Watson senior consultant Philip Hough, who conducted a legal salary survey earlier this year. “This is a recent development and indicates that competition has increased for experienced lawyers in the past few years.”

Remember, money talks.

  Sector   Average bonus
  Business services   £31,988
  Finance   £152,485
  Manufacturing   £12,500
  Retail   £32,159
  Transport/distribution & leisure   £44,568
  Public/not-for-profit   £3,750
  All   £60,266