Getting fat rarely warrants celebration -- except when it comes to paychecks. According to the latest results of HBR Consulting's 2011 Law Department Survey, in-house lawyers have a whole lot to celebrate.
Part two of the survey, released Tuesday, showed bigger year-over-year gains than the previous survey on all measures of compensation. Base salary was reported as up for in-house lawyers, as were cash bonus, total cash compensation, and total compensation (which includes the value of long-term incentives).
"Although the percent increases are not dramatic, we are seeing substantial improvement in in-house compensation levels this year," said HBR senior director Lauren Chung in a press release.
The report is based on responses from more than 6,000 attorneys across nine levels and more than 5,000 support staff. The median company represented in the survey generated more than $8.5 billion in annual revenues.
HBR released part one of its survey last month, reporting that companies have been managing costs by keeping more work in-house. (See "Lowering Spending by Increasing In-House Workloads.")
Commenting on companies' decisions to 1) bulk up their in-house law departments and 2) pay their lawyers more for their services, Chung said, "The outlook for the in-house market seems promising."
In recent years, cash has trumped stock options when it comes to year-end bonuses. Not surprisingly, HBR found that across attorney levels, the average cash bonus increased almost 26 percent. The average chief legal officer took home a $370,000 cash bonus, up more than 18 percent, with the average cash bonus for all attorney levels a respectable $67,000.
Companies are thawing out frozen salaries at a higher rate, too. According to the survey, the average in-house lawyer saw a 3.3 percent increase in base pay, compared to a 2.6 percent increase last year. The average base salary across attorney levels was $178,000.
The average total cash compensation (base pay plus cash bonus) surged 7.5 in this year's survey -- according to HBR, the most notable improvement over last year's numbers. In the 2010 survey, in-house lawyers saw gains of just 5.5 percent in the same category. The average total cash compensation for all in-house lawyers was $245,000.
General counsel took home an average of $776,000 in total cash pay. For chief legal officers, bonuses made up more than 40 percent of total cash compensation. HBR's findings were comparable to those reported in Corporate Counsel's 2011 GC Compensation Survey. Modest salary increases for general counsel were supplemented by a 29 percent jump in cash bonuses to yield overall heftier paychecks.
"It's no surprise coming into 2010, with the way the economy has improved, with the way the market has improved, to see pay go up," said Aaron Boyd, head of research at Equilar Inc., in response to the Corporate Counsel survey. "But I think the percentage levels -- the level at which pay has rebounded -- has surprised quite a few people."