In-house legal departments for U.S. companies are in need of lawyers with experience in business growth, executive compensation and labor and employment disputes, according to a new study. And to bring those lawyers in, companies will have to offer competitive salaries and benefits.

"A key part of attracting the best people is paying them well­—at least as much as your competitors are offering," said the study, which was compiled by legal consultancy Robert Half Legal. The report, titled the "2018 Salary Guide," is meant to help legal department and law firm managers attract legal talent in 2018. It offers salary estimates for a variety of legal jobs, from general counsel to first-year associate, from e-discovery director to filing clerk. The guide also offers information on what types of benefits are expected in today's legal workplace. The data is based on a survey of 200 lawyers in the "largest law firms and companies" in the United States.

Robert Half's guide offers starting salary averages for incoming GCs, associate GCs and in-house counsel with more than 10 years of experience, four to nine years of experience and less than three years of experience. The averages are also broken down by percentiles—the 50th percentile is the middle of the pack, for candidates with average experience and necessary skills to succeed at a job with an average level of complexity. At the top end—the 95th percentile—salaries represent what a company could pay for a candidate with "significant, highly relevant experience" and a "high level of expertise."

Companies pay middle-of-the-road GCs an average starting salary of $167,000, not including bonuses or benefits, according to the guide. But GCs with more experience earn an average of $306,000 upon being hired, the guide said. In-house counsel with less than three years of experience, and who need time to develop specific skills, average the lowest starting salary, with $63,500. 

The guide also offers localization data, showing managers how to change pay based on the local cost of living. New York and San Francisco have the highest percentage bump, with a 40 percent increase each, while Washington, D.C., has a 33 percent pay increase, and Chicago a 23.5 percent increase.

In San Francisco and the Bay Area, GC pay varies wildly, with many pay packages buttressed by bonuses, extra compensation and stock options, according to Corporate Counsel's 2017 GC Compensation Survey. Because of the common reliance on non-salary compensation in the Bay Area, little correlation exists between tenure and salary. For instance, the GC Compensation Survey showed that Kim Rivera, who joined HP Inc. as chief legal officer two years ago, recorded a salary of $612,004 in 2016; whereas Thomas Larkins, who began serving as GC to Applied Materials Inc. five years ago, earned a lower salary of $489,231 in 2016. But, the take home pay of Larkins was still higher than Rivera's overall take home pay, when bonuses and nonequity incentive compensation were included.

Robert Half also surveyed 740 professionals in human resources, compensation and benefits roles to better understand the common perks and benefits workers expect from their employers. The most common benefits offered by companies and law firms are health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance and vision insurance. At the bottom of the common benefit list is pet insurance, with only 7 percent of employers offering such a thing.

Perks are also covered, with a flexible work schedule being the most common, with 62 percent of workplaces offering it. Only 13 percent of companies and law firms offer free or subsidized meals, though, at the bottom of the list.

"Highly skilled professionals expect not just a base salary that's in line with what other firms are offering," the guide said, "but also a choice of benefits, incentives and perks that are just as competitive."