In-house counsel salary survey shows 'robust' and 'active' market, says recruiter

ZSA Legal Recruitment president Warren Bongard says market is in stage of moderate growth

In-house counsel salary survey shows 'robust' and 'active' market, says recruiter

A new in-house counsel salary survey from ZSA Legal Recruitment and Counselwell shows there is a premium for in-office work, and British Columbia is the most lucrative province for in-house roles.

“The in-house counsel market… is as robust and as active as it has ever been,” says Warren Bongard, president and co-founder of ZSA Legal Recruitment. In his 27 years in legal recruiting, Bongard says the in-house counsel market has grown consistently, fluctuating between rapid growth and moderate growth. 2024 is forecast as a “questionable” year, he says, with law firms and others in the market anticipating a flat year and hoping for a rebound in 2025.

“We're at a moderate growth moment now,” he says.

The survey consisted of 25 questions, and the results were based on 546 responses from legal counsel, senior legal counsel, deputy general counsel, and general counsel. Forty-nine percent of the survey respondents work for private companies, 37 percent work for public companies, 9 percent for government, and 5 percent for non-profits and charities.

The survey only included province-specific information for Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec, Canada’s four largest provinces by population, because there was not enough data from the other provinces to draw insights. Of those four, BC has the highest median base salary: $200,000. Ontario was second with $171,000, followed by Alberta with $152,000 and Quebec with $145,000.

About two-thirds of respondents said that their compensation was reasonable, and just over a third said it was not. Fifty-three percent said they might leave their company if another role paid more. Forty-one percent said they would leave, and only 6 percent said they would not.

The results showed a significant premium for workers who come into the office rather than work from home or in a hybrid arrangement. Nationwide, the average base salary for on-site workers is $221,171. On average, remote workers are making $181,733. The average base salary for hybrid workers is $172,210. Seventy-one percent of the survey respondents are in a hybrid role. Eighteen percent are working remotely, and only 11 percent are on-site full-time.

In-house counsel with private practice experience also make more, on average, than their counterparts without that experience. The average nationwide base salary for those with private-practice experience is $186,547. Those with none of that experience make $146,603 on average.

The average base salary for an in-house lawyer called to the bar between 1985 and 1999 is $295,422. Those called between 2000 and 2009 make $226,549. Those called between 2010 and 2019 make $172,862. And those called since 2020 make $116,446, on average.

The most lucrative industry in which to work is energy and natural resources, followed by hospitality and tourism, and then private equity.

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