Our recent survey of in-house legal staff pay shows that the typical salary for a newly-qualified solicitors has risen by 31.7% since our last survey in 2017. To put this in context, the median for pay rises across the whole economy has been running at around 2.5% in every year since 2017, which means the rise over the same period for many non-specialist roles is likely to have been around 8% in total. Meanwhile pay growth for other legal roles has been less marked.
Pay growth varies by seniority
Analysis of typical salaries for a range of roles within in-house legal teams shows that the median for newly-qualified solicitors has risen from £30,000 in 2017 to £39,508 in 2020, average growth of around 10% each year. The achievement of qualified status provides a significant boost in salary, followed by more modest progression thereafter.
In contrast, pay growth at the bottom and top of in-house legal pay structures, for unqualified legal trainees on the one hand and heads of legal departments on the other, is more or less flat. The median typical salary for an unqualified legal trainee has increased by just £776 since 2017 from £25,200 to £25,976 and that for a head of legal fell marginally from £127,150 in 2017 to £123,850 this year, though some of this is due to sampling variations and staff at this level are usually eligible for bonus pay (see below).
Pay growth for staff in legal adviser and deputy general counsel roles has averaged around 4% each year between 2017 and 2020, while that for senior legal advisers is a little below that elsewhere in the economy at 2% annually.
The median salary for legal advisers rose from £43,412 in 2017 to £48,796 in 2020; deputy general counsels’ base pay increased from £70,811 to £79,375 and senior legal advisers’ pay went up from £65,000 to £68,123 at the median over the last three years.
Bonus payments lower for senior legal staff
Bonuses are a key component of reward packages for legal staff with three-quarters (74%) of respondents reporting that they operate a bonus scheme for some or all legal staff. Bonus eligibility typically increases with seniority: only around a quarter (26%) of unqualified trainees tend to receive a bonus compared to 74% of heads of legal.
The survey shows that staff earlier on in their careers have received higher bonuses this year, while pay-outs for those in managerial positions have tended to be lower or the same. Bonus payments for newly-qualified solicitors average 10% and those for legal advisors average 11%. Average bonuses for senior legal advisers, deputy general counsel and heads are at 11%, 19% and 30% respectively.
Car allowances and private health care
Half of survey participants operate a company car scheme for staff in legal roles and a quarter (26%) extend the scheme to legal advisers. The majority provide a car allowance rather than a company car, and car allowances average £9,019 a year for heads of legal, £6,517 for deputy general counsels, £6,306 for senior legal advisors and £4,500 for legal advisors.
Private health care is provided to in-house legal staff by around three-quarters of respondents, although coverage varies by seniority. Junior staff are typically only eligible for healthcare cover for themselves, while cover for senior staff includes family members.