2018 In-House Counsel Compensation Survey: How do you measure up?

By CCCA-ACCJE March 22, 201822 March 2018

2018 In-House Counsel Compensation Survey: How do you measure up?

The 2018 In-House Counsel Compensation & Career Survey results are in! Now in its fifth wave, the survey, developed jointly by the CCCA and The Counsel Network and conducted by Bramm Research, provides the most up-to-date and robust analysis of in-house counsel compensation in Canada. It measures and benchmarks compensation packages, and reports on career-related topics and trends for Canada’s in-house counsel community.

Highlights of the survey include the following:

  • The impact of an aging workforce is being felt. This year’s sample consists of a greater percentage of respondents with fewer years in the profession than in 2016. In the previous study, 30% of the sample had fewer than 10 years in practice. This year, that percentage has climbed to 40%. A by-product of this shift is that we have more respondents this year in a lower salary range and fewer respondents with more experience earning higher salary ranges.
  • In 2018, the national average base salary stands at $163,000. As noted above, due to the higher number of respondents at a lower salary range and fewer at the higher range, the average base salary this year is slightly less than the $165,000 recorded in 2016. In-house counsel in Alberta and Ontario continue to be paid above the national average, and those in British Columbia are equivalent to the national average. While the average base salary in Quebec is approaching the national average, salaries in Atlantic and Central Canada continue to lag behind.
  • This year, the highest average base salaries are in oil & gas ($196k), resources/mining/forestry ($193k), construction ($183k), pharmaceuticals/medical ($177k), retail/hospitality ($173k), real estate ($172k) and manufacturing/automotive/aerospace industries ($165k). The largest gains in annual base salaries from 2016 to 2018 were in pharmaceuticals/medical (up $26k), oil & gas (up $15k), and construction (up $11k). The most substantial downward shifts from 2016 to 2018 are in resources/mining/forestry (down $14k), real estate (down $13k), and manufacturing/automotive/aerospace industries (down $11k).
  • This year, for the first-time, female participants outnumber men (51% female compared to 48% male). On average, the salary of female in-house counsel is 11% lower than that of their male counterparts. While the gap has narrowed since 2016 where female salaries were 15% lower than that of their male counterparts, women continue to be paid less than men at all job role levels. Substantial gender differences can be seen at the higher wage levels. For example, 13% of males have a mean salary of $180,000 to < $200,000, while only 8% of women receive this level of pay. Twenty-six percent of males earn $200,000 or more, compared to 15% of females. Further, women are paid less than men at all job role levels. For Legal Counsel, the male-female gap is relatively small ($1,000 annually) to the male’s advantage. At the General Counsel (GC) Executive Level, the male advantage is $17,000 annually. These differences are smaller in 2018 than they were in 2016.
  • On average, in-house counsel spend two-thirds (66%) of their time on purely legal work. Generally, the more senior the position, the less time spent doing purely legal work. The GC Executive Level spend the least amount of time (53%) on purely legal work. Accordingly, when it comes to managerial work, those with higher seniority positions at the Executive or Director Level spend more of their time on managerial work, at 40% and 33% respectively.
  • The majority of in-house counsel (42%) report increases in the size of their legal departments as opposed to decreases (12%). With regards to optimism, the percentage of those very optimistic about the future of their organization’s legal department (65%) and their professional future with the organization (56%) continues at 2016 levels, which was lower than in 2012.
  • This year, 31% of in-house counsel are very satisfied with work-life balance, and 40% are somewhat satisfied, for a combined total of 71%. This is much the same as in 2016, but a noticeable drop from 2012. Regionally, those in Alberta, Central Canada and Atlantic Canada have the highest likelihood of saying they are very satisfied with work-life balance. Quebec reported the biggest gain in being very satisfied, going from 15% in 2016 to 24% in 2018. British Columbia, Central Canada, Ontario and Atlantic Canada all showed a drop in satisfaction compared to 2016.

The Changing Face of In-House Counsel

“In-house counsel are getting very busy. Their workloads are increasing,” states Dal Bhathal, Managing Partner of The Counsel Network. “While departments are hiring more, it is more positions at the junior level.”

This year’s survey certainly supports this trend, with 40% of respondents having fewer than 10 years in practice. Bhathal is seeing it in her executive legal recruitment work as well. “There are definitely more in-house positions now,” she says, “but still not as many senior positions like General Counsel available for advancement.”

There’s also increasing competition, as more lawyers look to move in-house, thinking it will provide a better balance. However, in-house counsel are working harder than ever, putting in a lot of hours, with the added task of training the more junior recruits.

With each new release of the survey, increasingly more in-house counsel are feeling the added pressures and asking why there is such a compensation gap between them and those private practice.

“[The two environments] are very different,” explains Bhathal. “Private practice lawyers are under increasing pressure to bring in work, for example. It is impossible to compare in-house compensation with private practice. There is no direct comparator [even among in-house counsel].” It all comes back to how you use the survey. You use it as a guide.

This is even truer as the legal profession is currently changing because of a myriad of disruptive forces, such as AI, alternative business processes and diversity issues. “But things are not changing from a talent management perspective,” says Bhathal. “The whole profession is very reactive right now. It needs to take a step back and ask, ‘How can we keep up? What do we need to do differently to recruit, train and retain lawyers?’”

“It is a challenge. It will become increasingly challenging,” explains Bhathal. “A clear talent management strategy is necessary for the success of both the in-house counsel and the company as a whole.”


Click here for the full survey results with in-depth analysis .

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