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In-House Counsel Salaries: What Can You Expect in the First 3 Years?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 15, 2013 10:15 AM

Last year, Kent Zimmerman, a consultant for the Zeugheuser Group, told Bloomberg Law to expect more law firm layoffs and BigLaw dissolutions. It’s a scary prospect for attorneys. While no one expects a recent law grad to be able to find a job these days, we like to believe that the already-employed among us will stay employed.

If Zimmerman’s predictions are correct, there could be a lot of unemployed lawyers by the end of 2013. Right about now, making the switch to in-house counsel sounds pretty appealing.

We recently compared entry-level legal salaries between in-house counsel and traditional practitioners. Based on those numbers, going corporate looked like a good bet. Today, we’re moving on to in-house counsel salaries during the first three years of practice.

Once again, we turn to the Robert Half Legal 2013 Salary Guide for some answers.

In 2013, Robert Half Legal -- a legal staffing agency -- estimates that licensed lawyers with one-to-three years of experience will pull in anywhere between $55,750 and $151,250 at law firms. Here are the breakdowns by firm size:

  • Large law firm (75+ attorneys): $111,500 - $151,250
  • Midsize law firm (35-75 lawyers): $82,500- $119,750
  • Small/midsize law firm (10-35 lawyers): $66,000- $99,750
  • Small law firm (up to 10 lawyers): $55,750 - $88,000.

In the in-house world, an attorney with one-to-three years' experience is expected to make between $77,500 and $124,500, which is 3.7 percent higher than one-to-three year in-house salaries in 2012. That projected increase is significantly higher that projected law firm salary increases for comparably-experienced attorneys, which range between 2.1 percent (at large firms) and 2.9 percent (at midsize and small firms).

Above the Law's layoff watch coverage suggests that there may be some truth to the doomsday layoff predictions, and the young attorneys are often the first to go in layoffs. If you have a law firm job, perhaps it's time to seriously consider in-house gig.

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