As dedicated readers of InsideCounsel know, each month the magazine features a profile of a general counsel. In these profiles, reporters routinely ask their interviewees this question: What advice would you give to a young lawyer aspiring to become a GC?
Admittedly, interviewees have stumbled over this particular question during the past year. Many current GCs say that, these days, acquiring any in-house position takes immense talent and effort, not to mention a bit of luck. And as debt-saddled law school graduates face a relatively bleak job market, many GCs recommend that prospective attorneys supplement their law degrees with business degrees to boost their attractiveness to corporate legal departments.
The results of the 2011 HBR Law Department Survey, conducting by HBR Consulting, which provides consulting services to law firms and law departments, found that companies are increasing their internal legal spend and reducing their reliance on outside law firms, which, according to experts, indicates that in-house hiring is on the rise.
Experts are happily reporting a moderate increase in in-house salaries. According to the 2011 HBR Law Department Survey, the average base salary increase among all legal department staff levels in 2011 was 3.3 percent, up from an average increase of 2.6 percent in 2010. Base salary increases had drastically slowed in 2010, from 3.4 percent in 2009 and 5 percent to 6 percent in 2004 through 2008. The latest increase indicates that companies are continuing to lift salary freezes. Additionally, companies are recognizing that they need to be more competitive with law firms, which traditionally have doled out larger salaries.
The needs of corporate legal departments change year to year depending on company growth and goals, new industry regulations and other factors. This year’s top three most in-demand practice areas among corporations that participated in the 2011 HBR Law Department Survey include regulatory, international, and employment and labor. “We can infer that potentially those would be some of the areas where companies will be looking to hire,” Chung says. Other top in-demand areas include litigation, compliance and patents.
Now more than ever, companies want lawyers who work smarter. They want lawyers who understand business, how to bill matters differently, how to staff matters differently, and how to examine what they’re doing and think about better ways of getting it done.
In addition to salary increases over the past year, bonuses are returning to pre-recession levels. The 2011 HBR Law Department Survey found that the average bonus increase among attorneys was an astounding 25.7 percent, with GCs receiving an average increase of 18.3 percent. The average cash bonus for all attorney levels was $67,000; by comparison, GCs received an average cash bonus of $370,000.