In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

Recently in Tales from the Legal Department Category

Startup Counsel Salaries Going Up in Silicon Valley

Until a startup is required to disclose compensation details, it's hard to know how much general counsel make there.

But according to reports, in-house counsel salaries are going up in 2017. And in Silicon Valley, the startups are putting it out there.

Julie Brush, writing for the Recorder, says the market has picked up for general counsel in the San Francisco Bay Area. She says the base salary is $250,000 to $300,000.

"Of all the compensation knobs, this one has turned the most in a forward direction for candidates," she wrote. "Rarely will the number exceed $300K or fall below $250K at the offer stage."

In-house attorneys shouldn't keep the rest of the company at arm's length. That's the message from PayPal's Chief Business Affairs and Legal Officer, Louis Pentland. "As an in-house lawyer," Pentland explains, "the best you can get is when you're integrated with the business team."

That means forgoing the more traditional role of simply identifying and advising the company on risks, while allowing others to make the final decision.

Wells Fargo's board of directors released its report into the bank's fraudulent account scandal yesterday, a scandal that saw millions of fake accounts opened customers' names, as employees bent rules to meet demanding sales goals. The report, which marks the near culmination of the bank's internal investigations, laid blame primarily on two executives: ex-CEO John G. Stumpf and former head of community banking Carrie L. Tolstedt.

But the report also gives some insight into how the problem got so bad, and how the bank's internal legal department failed to prevent the scandal, even when they'd warned of risks years before.

Corporate clients are spending significantly less on legal services than they once did. In the last year alone, legal spend has dropped 11 percent on average, according to a new survey from Bloomberg Law and the Buying Legal Council. The most successful teams were able to cut their spending by 23 percent, or nearly a quarter.

So, how'd they do it?

Amazon is known for its discounts, but this discount is steep indeed. The online retailer won a tax dispute with the IRS last Thursday, evading a federal tax bill of $1.5 billion plus interest.

The dispute began when the IRS accused Amazon of inappropriately lowering its domestic tax bill by transferring assets to a subsidiary in Luxembourg. But the U.S. Tax Court disagreed, calling the IRS's evaluation "arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable."

Does your legal department have an operations professional? If not, it could soon. The legal department operations professional, or LDO, is becoming a key role in many legal departments, according to the 2016 Thomson Reuters Legal Department In-Sourcing and Efficiency Report.

Twenty-one percent of departments have an LDO, according to the report, and that number appears to be growing. As corporate legal departments handle more work in house, with little commensurate growth in resources, an LDO can free up attorneys to focus on legal, rather than operational, tasks.

After more than two decades as general counsel at Bio-Rad Laboratories, Sanford Wadler was fired from the company after he attempted to report corrupt practices to the company's board, Wadler says. So he sued.

Last week, Wadler won his lawsuit -- and nearly $11 million. A federal jury awarded Wadler $2.9 million in back pay and stock options and $5 million in punitive damages. That award will increase another $3 million under the Dodd-Frank Act, which allows double back pay for damages in whistleblower retaliation cases.

The days of outside counsel handling an entire case may be coming to their end. Instead, clients are increasingly unbundling legal services, assigning tasks piecemeal across multiple firms and lawyers, in order to find the most cost efficient legal services, according to a forthcoming paper in the Fordham Law Review.

These changes, according to the paper, mark a shift in who controls litigation costs and tasks, moving from the lawyer to the client, and parallel similar developments in the rules of civil procedure.

What lawyer brought a razor-sharp wit to, well, a razor fight? Jack Sarno, general counsel of the razor-blades-by-mail startup Harry's.

After Gillette launched a campaign to "welcome back" former Harry's users, Sarno sent off a demand letter to Gillette, part of Procter & Gamble -- a demand letter with plenty of, ahem, edge.

Salary negotiations can be a bit more difficult for in-house attorneys than for other lawyers. Whereas BigLaw firms tend to follow strict compensation plans, pay for in-house lawyers can vary significantly across companies, industries, and experience levels.

That means you'll need to put in extra work to understand what salary is possible for you and negotiate a decent compensation plan. Here are some tips.