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In-House Salaries Are Up. But Many Say They're Underpaid.

From Corporate Counsel  By Stephanie Forshee

Compensation for in-house lawyers has increased slightly, but many still think they're worth more money than they're getting, according to a new survey.

The executive search firm BarkerGilmore polled more than 1,000 senior-level in-house attorneys for its 2016 In-House Counsel Compensation Report. The survey, released on Monday, found that in the past year, the average annual salary increase rate for all position levels across industries was 4.2 percent.

But the survey also found that many in-house counsel are still unhappy with their compensation, with 44 percent of respondents saying that they think their compensation is below or significantly below that of their peers and 40 percent saying that they would consider a new position in the next year because of compensation issues.

"The percentage of people who indicated that they'd consider a new position surprised me," says Robert Barker, partner with BarkerGilmore. "My expectation would have been a lot lower, but they're expressing a significant level of dissatisfaction."

In certain industries, such as financial services and health care, in-house counsel are less likely to go looking for higher pay. Sixty-six percent of attorneys in the financial industry said that the chances of initiating a job search in the next year was low or very low, and 68 percent in the health care industry said the same.

Barker notes that this survey was taken before a wave of pay increases for asso­ciates at big law firms, so that trend "had no bearing" on the results. Barker predicts that in the year to come, in-house salaries will not be greatly affected by the salary increases at law firms. But he does expect that legal departments "will be more challenged to bring in top performers from large law firms because the compensation gap is widening."

Law firm associates in the fourth- to sixth-year range "are having second thoughts about moving in-house," Barker says. "Even though they want to move in-house, they may delay it to continue the opportunity to make more money for longer."

The survey also found that:

- Energy, health care and finance were the highest-paid industries for corporate counsel across all levels of experience.

- For general counsel, the highest-paid jobs are in the energy industry, where the average salary for a GC is $860,650. Financial services was the next highest-paying industry for GCs, with the average salary coming in at $780,303. Technology was next at $698,417.