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In-house lawyers not getting rich on bonuses: survey

|Written By Kelly Harris

A recent corporate counsel survey found less than 10 per cent of in-house lawyers receive additional compensation of 50 per cent or more of their base salary.


The annual legal compensation survey polled attendees of the Canadian Institute In-house Counsel Congress held in Toronto last week. Carol Fitzwilliam conducted the survey for Montreal-based Fitzwilliam Legal Recruitment. She says the findings help to dispel a myth that “in-house lawyers are getting rich on the back end.”

While the survey did not reflect a significant number of in-house counsel, Fitzwilliam says it is consistent with what she hears in her recruiting practice.

Additional compensation, of 35 per cent of their salary or less, is what the vast majority of lawyers receive. Additionally, 60 per cent of respondents reported their base salary was $150,000 or more.

Less than seven per cent of respondents, all of whom have less than five years experience in-house, reported their base salary as less than $100,000.

The survey was part of a session on “Hiring the top-performing in-house team: identifying talent and providing competitive salaries.” Fitzwilliam along with Marvin Shahin, in-house lawyer and director of regional development for the TDL Group Corp. — Tim Hortons — in Quebec, hosted the session.

Both say the key to attracting the best lawyers is not the base salary, but rather the opportunities afforded by the company.

However, that doesn’t mean lawyers are willing to sign up for bargain basement salaries. Fitzwilliam and Shahin say the caveat is the base compensation has to be reasonable.

“Once the enumeration is adequate and is there, lawyers tend to be type-A personalities, they look for something else,” Shahin says.

One of the things in-house counsel look for is the whole package, or as Shahin says, “the envelope.”

This can include bonus packages, pension plans, professional training, professional fees, and vacation time.

In addition, lawyers who want to go in-house tend to want to be more involved with the company than simply working on a single file or project.

In-house counsel want to take part in many aspects of the company and help build it.

Shahin says Tim Hortons employs a unique way for lawyers to understand the operations of the corporation.

“We require all our employees to take an abbreviated form of training,” he says. “Imagine telling a lawyer with all their experience and degrees ‘You are going to bake some donuts for a few days.’”

The survey also found half of the respondents considered total compensation of members of their legal team “appropriate and competitive within the market.”

The respondents who felt satisfied with their overall pay package also said they had “sufficient information regarding compensation.”

The survey concludes then that communicating compensation issues with employees is a valuable retention tool.

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