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How in-house counsel salaries stack up

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September 7, 2021
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How in-house counsel salaries stack up

In-house counsels handle the legal matters of companies, which could include tax, employment, contract management, regulatory, or similar issues. The attorneys also manage work that has been outsourced to lawyers at outside firms, litigation for example. These in-house lawyers typically work for specific businesses—even as independent contractors—on their legal teams, looking to meet the goal of assisting a specific business’ legal needs. With in-house counsel, businesses do not need to find lawyers at outside firms when a legal issue arises.

The United States has more than 1.3 million lawyers, according to a 2020 profile of the legal profession by the American Bar Association. New York City is home to 117,000 of them, or 14 lawyers for every 1,000 residents. The rise of in-house counsel is surmounting, according to The Practice from Harvard Law School. As of 2012, there were only an estimated 100,000 in-house lawyers in the United States, but that number has likely increased as the in-house counsel movement continues to take form.

Ironclad compiled the most recently available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA) to review how in-house counsel salaries compare to lawyer earnings in every state. Data on average lawyer earnings includes a range of attorney titles from legal aid workers to partners at law firms. MLA’s data narrows in on in-house counsels in particular, providing compensation data for 29 states and Washington D.C.

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#30. Indiana

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $281,800
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $207,038
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: data not available
- Average lawyer salary: $117,820

The legal profession is one of the fastest-growing high-wage professions in Indiana, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development’s Hoosier Hot 50 Jobs. As for job prospects for an in-house counsel, among the American companies that both have the most revenue according to the Fortune 500 list and are headquartered in Indiana are Thor Industries, which makes recreational vehicles; Anthem health insurance company; and Eli Lilly and Co.

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#29. Arizona

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $289,221
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $216,571
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $180,800
- Average lawyer salary: $140,520

In 2021, Arizona began to allow non-lawyers to co-own law firms and to provide some legal services, among them accompanying clients to court, opening up more avenues for in-house lawyers. The new regulations are meant to make affordable legal services more available. Utah made a similar change and other states, such as California, are considering loosening regulations. These more relaxed regulations may lead to more business partnerships among lawyers since there is more flexibility around who can co-own a law firm.

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#28. North Carolina

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $292,212
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $244,051
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $179,322
- Average lawyer salary: $132,190

Among the top corporations in North Carolina with potential for in-house counsel positions are Bank of America and Duke Energy in Charlotte, Lowe’s in Mooresville, and Hanesbrands Inc. in Winston-Salem. The average wage for a lawyer in North Carolina is near the midpoint of all 361 metropolitan statistical areas measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to the American Bar Association. With potential to work with big-name clients across different metros on the state, in-house lawyers have the chance to launch their careers in North Carolina.

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#27. Nevada

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $292,909
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $280,714
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $195,778
- Average lawyer salary: $129,480

Nevada’s economy relies on gambling and tourism, and the industry has surged back from the coronavirus pandemic. The state gaming win, the amount casinos take from players, was more than $1 billion for the fourth month straight in June. But business experts are urging that the economy diversify, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Lawyers with a background in gambling and tourism have the potential to thrive in Nevada, since the state is home to 466 casinos.

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#26. Georgia

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $303,190
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $224,212
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $184,036
- Average lawyer salary: $140,300

The National Law Review in August 2021 called Georgia “one of the legal industry’s most sensational success stories in recent years.” It was formerly a state that lagged in terms of how many lawyers worked there and what their salaries were. But in 2018, the number of lawyers increased by more than 21%. According to the National Law Review, demand is “skyrocketing,” and in-house lawyers are seeing an average salary of roughly more than $80,000 a year compared to traditional lawyers.

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#25. Maryland

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $303,194
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $233,138
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $190,978
- Average lawyer salary: $139,610

Maryland is tenth on a list of the largest number of lawyers per state, compiled by the American Bar Association in The ABA Journal for an article on the best places to practice. As for its economy, the Baltimore Sun described it this way in 2018: “From agriculture and manufacturing to military contracting and natural gas production, Maryland’s economy is diverse.” Among its top employers are Giant Foods and Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, giving plenty of in-house lawyers options for employment across medicine, retail, etc.

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#24. Minnesota

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $306,381
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $224,259
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $189,750
- Average lawyer salary: $131,460

Manufacturing in Minnesota ranges from aerospace, sensors, and semiconductors to medical devices, food production, and packaging. Also among its top sectors are information technology and data centers and banking and insurance. Minnesota has more than 26,000 lawyers in 2021, up by 0.9% since the previous year. With such a diverse economy, there are plenty of opportunities for in-house lawyers to practice across the state, no matter their specialties.

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#23. Illinois

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $309,980
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $233,185
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $187,741
- Average lawyer salary: $153,720

Illinois has seen some of the fastest growth in salaries for lawyers in the past five years, according to The National Law Review. Job openings have jumped as well, and the market for lawyers is up more than 20%. Most law firms in the state are in Chicago, but with a generally lower cost of living within the state, finding an in-house position and maintaining surplus income will likely not be a challenge. The National Law Review also said "You’ll be in store for robust career growth in this great state," meaning there are opportunities to build an in-house counsel career from the ground up in the state.

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#22. District of Columbia

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $310,463
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $238,640
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $211,053
- Average lawyer salary: $197,100

Washington D.C., tops the list of cities and metropolitan areas where legal services are in the greatest demand, according to the ranking published by the American Bar Association in The ABA Journal. It comes in sixth as far as the number of lawyers in a state, and according to that same article, it is The ABA Journal’s assessment of the best places to practice. Washington D.C. has 56,135 lawyers with well over a thousand in-house counsel job openings for professionals in the nation's capital.

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#21. Colorado

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $310,827
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $207,996
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $188,000
- Average lawyer salary: $148,330

Colorado is #12 in the country as far as the availability of lawyers, according to the American Bar Association. The state has four lawyers per 1,000 people. The state’s economy was historically based on ranching, farming, and mining, but has now branched out to include aerospace, biochemistry, clean energy, and other technology-driven businesses, giving in-house lawyers an array of businesses to practice with.

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#20. South Carolina

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $311,799
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $209,200
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: data not available
- Average lawyer salary: $114,320

Aerospace, agribusiness, automotive, and manufacturing industries make up the economy of South Carolina. Trade, transportation, and utilities employ the most people in the state, followed by government and professional and business services. Manufacturing and education and health services follow, making the state adaptable for in-house lawyers of all types. The cost of living in South Carolina is also 12% below the national average, making it a good spot for up-and-coming in-house lawyers.

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#19. California

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $315,660
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $278,874
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $234,842
- Average lawyer salary: $179,470

California appears on a 2019 list of the best places to practice law compiled by the American Bar Association in The ABA Journal. For in-house lawyers, the total annual actual cash ratio was reported to be the highest in the country at $4.8 million in the Los Angeles metro area. The state had the second largest number of lawyers, just behind New York, at 170,117. San Francisco came in 10th as far as a list of cities and metropolitan areas with the highest demand for legal services. The National Law Review noted California has four hubs for lawyers: Besides San Francisco, there is Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento.

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#18. Pennsylvania

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $318,152
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $228,971
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $193,962
- Average lawyer salary: $139,120

Pennsylvania comes in seventh as far as the largest number of lawyers in a state, according to the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal. It had 50,039 lawyers in 2019. Among the state’s key industries are manufacturing, natural gas, agribusiness, tourism, and plastics. Pennsylvania is one of the largest states in the north eastern United States, giving in-house lawyers the potential to practice across different industries and have the flexibility to practice in big cities like Philadelphia or smaller rural communities.

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#17. West Virginia

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $319,407
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $198,500
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: data not available
- Average lawyer salary: $109,290

Charleston, West Virginia, was #5 on a list of places where the demand for legal services was the greatest, according to The ABA Journal, a publication of the American Bar Association. West Virginia has moved away from its reliance on the coal industry and has developed aerospace, agriculture, automotive, and other industries. In addition to diversifying its economy allowing for more types of in-house lawyers, West Virginia also has the fifth-lowest cost of living in the U.S., making it a good place to begin a career within in-house counsel.

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#16. Florida

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $321,822
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $223,400
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $160,947
- Average lawyer salary: $139,160

Florida was fourth in the number of lawyers per state in 2019. That’s according to a listing of the best places to practice from the American Bar Association in The ABA Journal. Tallahassee, Florida, according to that same list came in second among cities and metropolitan areas with the highest demand for legal services, and Miami was #6. Florida is also home to large businesses such as Walt Disney World Resorts and attracts tourists to its beaches and theme parks, making it a prime spot for in-house lawyers practicing in hospitality and tourism. Additionally, Florida ranks #8 in the U.S. in terms of economic stability and potential, giving in-house lawyers the opportunity to grow.

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#15. Tennessee

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $330,888
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $222,633
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $172,700
- Average lawyer salary: $121,790

Nashville, Tennessee, has been in the midst of a building boom: the Music City Center, $2 million condominiums, restaurants, and boutique hotels. Its economy has branched out from music to include health care and an Amazon operations center, according to Above the Law in a 2021 article titled Nashville: The (Legal) ‘It’ City. As for the legal industry, the global law firm K&L Gates LLP has established an office in Nashville, and expects to hire more than 25 lawyers in such practices as health care and litigation.

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#14. Oklahoma

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $335,286
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $228,429
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $198,500
- Average lawyer salary: $122,040

Reflecting the part oil has played in the state’s economy, all five of Oklahoma’s Fortune 500 companies are energy companies—NGL Energy Partners, Oneok, Chesapeake Energy, Williams, and Devon. Three are in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and two in Oklahoma City. But the economy has diversified to include aerospace, technology, manufacturing, and Google’s second largest data center, according to the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce.

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#13. Missouri

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $335,605
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $236,390
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $182,958
- Average lawyer salary: $111,020

The 2020 recipients of in-house counsel awards from Missouri Lawyers Media worked for companies ranging from Cigna in the health care field to Arco Construction Co. to Anheuser-Busch and The Boeing Company. Among the state’s largest corporations are Centene, a health care insurer, Emerson Electric, and the Reinsurance Group of America. Most are in St. Louis, except for O’Reilly Automotive in Springfield.

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#12. Louisiana

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $341,063
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $247,433
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $221,296
- Average lawyer salary: $112,190

Two Louisiana-based companies appear on the Fortune 500 list in 2020, the energy company Entergy and the telecommunications company CenturyLink, now Lumen. Of the 50 largest private employers in Louisiana, 60% are in the medical field, according to data provided by Greater New Orleans Inc. and published by Nola.com. Also in the mix: construction companies and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. Only eight states have more lawyers per capita than Louisiana, according to a 2020 American Bar Association profile of the legal profession.

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#11. Michigan

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $341,550
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $240,528
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $194,492
- Average lawyer salary: $119,150

As would be expected for the home of Motown, the 2021 Fortune 500 list that ranks the top revenue-producing companies in the country annually includes Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., and Penske Automotive Group, which operates car and truck dealerships. There’s also Whirlpool and The Kellogg Company. The automotive and manufacturing sectors of the economy were resilient over the course of the coronavirus with opportunities for general counsel positions.

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#10. Virginia

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $342,027
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $222,058
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $191,185
- Average lawyer salary: $151,970

Richmond, Virginia, ranks 10th in a list that appeared in Above the Law in 2019 of the best cities in which to practice law. The list, compiled by AdvisorSmith, took into account the cost-of-living index, average annual salaries, and the density of jobs. Among one of the top corporations based in the state: Northrop Grumman in Falls Church, Virginia. Virginia is also part of the Washington D.C. metro area, giving opportunities for in-house lawyers to practice with businesses in the sphere of the nation's capital.

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#9. Ohio

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $342,885
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $263,023
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $179,994
- Average lawyer salary: $128,170

There are 29 companies based in Ohio that appear on the Fortune 500 list for revenue generation. Top companies in the state, all located in Cincinnati, include the grocery store chain Kroger; Procter & Gamble, with brands ranging from Bounty to Gillette; and Chiquita Brands International. Another household name, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, is in Akron, Ohio, while Abercrombie & Fitch is located in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. The diversity of businesses in the state gives in-house lawyers several options when considering their next career paths.

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#8. Kentucky

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $351,148
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $214,000
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: data not available
- Average lawyer salary: $105,130

Among the top corporations headquartered in Kentucky are Humana Inc. and Yum Brands Inc., the owner of Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut. Both had been on the Fortune 500 list, but only Humana made the cut in 2020. Kentucky is one of 10 states where lawyers earn the least; however, Kentucky still ranks far below the national average in terms of cost of living.

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#7. Texas

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $351,185
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $242,159
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $197,002
- Average lawyer salary: $142,730

Texas came in third in a listing of the largest number of lawyers per state in 2019, with 91,244. The list was compiled by the American Bar Association in The ABA Journal. Houston was ranked second on a list of top cities for lawyers put together by AdvisorSmith, the business research company, and calculated by cost of living, salaries, and density of lawyers. Texas has also seen a large influx of businesses over the last several years, making it a prime spot for in-house lawyers.

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#6. Nebraska

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $373,412
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $251,167
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $236,613
- Average lawyer salary: $118,070

Five Fortune 500 companies make their headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. They are the packaged food company ConAgra Foods, Union Pacific Corp., Mutual of Omaha, the construction company Kiewit Corp., and Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. In 2019, Omaha was one of the top cities where millennials were moving.

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#5. Delaware

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $376,083
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $249,020
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $194,083
- Average lawyer salary: data not available

Wilmington, Delaware, has been listed among the best cities for lawyers, according to a ranking by ValuePenguin, the consumer data research firm. One reason: high salaries similar to larger cities such as New York, but with a much lower cost of living. In the 2015 listing, Wilmington was ranked seventh. Delaware is known as the state where the majority of Fortune 500 companies incorporate, and that’s because it has up-to-date corporation statutes and a court that rules on disputes over corporation law without juries.

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#4. Utah

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $376,500
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $187,414
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: data not available
- Average lawyer salary: $141,460

Utah is headquarters for such corporations as Nu Skin Enterprises, which sells personal care products and dietary supplements; Overstock.com; and SkyWest. Other prominent corporations are Intermountain Healthcare and SirsiDynix, the world’s largest provider of library technology. Salt Lake City is famously the base for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which draws many members of the religion. In 2021, Law on Call opened in Utah. It is the first law firm in the United States entirely owned by non-lawyers as part of an effort to make legal services more affordable.

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#3. New York

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $377,435
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $317,364
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $280,916
- Average lawyer salary: $174,060

New York, home to some of the world’s most prominent law firms, had the most lawyers of any state in 2019, according to a list of the best places to practice compiled by the American Bar Association in The ABA Journal. The state topped the list with 182,296 lawyers. New York City has the third-highest demand for legal services, according to that compilation, and the state’s capital, Albany, came in seventh. The National Law Review in August 2021 noted that the state has one of the highest average salaries and a strong demand for new lawyers. New York City lawyers earn a higher total annual actual cash amount than most areas in the country; however, Buffalo and Rochester, New York, are among the lowest.

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#2. Washington

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $380,342
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $230,857
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $178,579
- Average lawyer salary: $131,530

Washington is home to such major corporations as Starbucks, Microsoft, and the outdoor retailer REI, providing opportunities for in-house legal positions. But the state also allows for what are called limited license legal technicians, who must pass exams and are permitted to practice in other areas, for example family law. The innovation grew out of a concern over fewer lawyers practicing today.

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#1. Wisconsin

- Average in-house general counsel salary: $428,757
- Average in-house deputy general counsel salary: $198,500
- Average in-house associate general counsel salary: $181,644
- Average lawyer salary: $124,410

The magazine of the Wisconsin Bar Association, Wisconsin Lawyer, noted in a 2019 article that attracting lawyers in a strong economy was a challenge, especially outside of the cities of Madison and Milwaukee. ​​On the other hand, a good job market offers more opportunities for lawyers. Growing areas of practice in Wisconsin include: food and beverage law as farms restructure debt, laws around hemp cultivation approved in the 2018 farm bill, and agritourism, which might involve the opening of a taproom at an apple orchard, for example.

 

This story originally appeared on Ironclad and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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