Morrison on Metrics: Salary Comparisons

What's by far the most important metric to in-house lawyers? The amount on their paycheck. How much you make and how that pittance compares to your peers consumes most of the thoughts on metrics and quantification of the average corporate attorney. Everyone wants to know how their salary and bonus stacks up to others. At the management side, the top lawyers need to know comparative compensation data so that they can decide fair offers and focused raises and fitting bonuses.

Comparative compensation data for law department lawyers and other members comes from surveys that you can purchase at costs of $600 to $2,000 or more, which puts them out of the reach of individual lawyers. HR departments can invest in those offerings but not Chris Lawyer. To the Internet they must go to forage around for online salary data. Fortunately, at least three sites give such data. Here are some top-level summaries of them.

One example is the Internet Legal Research Group site. It provides data on salary ranges for in-house lawyers, paralegals and legal secretaries. Each of those groups has three or four breakdowns by years of experience. At the bottom of the webpage there are multipliers for how to convert the national figures into those that are closer to your regional figures. If you multiply the range by the adjustment most appropriate for you, the result is a range more likely to fit your own situation.

The website MySalary.com also presents compensation data for in-house lawyers in the United States. This site provides a bell curve chart for base salaries with 10th percentile; first quartile, third quartile and 90th percentile figures along with medians. Its basic grouping is by title, such as Associate General Counsel.

The Robert Half Salary Calculator provides a third set of salary figures. Its calculator shows salary ranges and "midpoints" for the zip code and level that you enter. Finally, at one time, Salary Wizard provided data about in-house compensation and there may be other sources online at no cost.

Let me make four observations to close this column:

1. Each site has considerable gaps in terms of the granularity of its data. None of them, for example, show differences by practice area and their years of experience tend to be wide ranges. But they are free. An in-house lawyer could pull data from several of them and average the results.

2. If this data is as accurate as it appears to be, why should Law and HR departments spend money on expensive compensation surveys of law departments if this level of detail can be had online at even a modest cost?

3. None of the sites are very clear about their sources, freshness or representativeness of their data. However, some quick comparisons reveal fairly similar data, so there is likely to be underlying data that is correct.

4. Bonus information is much harder to find, and rightfully so. Bonuses depend significantly on corporate performance or the performance of the entire department.

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Rees Morrison

Rees Morrison, Esq. is the founder of General Counsel Metrics, LLC. Based in Princeton, NJ, Rees has for the past 25 years consulted solely to...

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