ACC Compensation Survey 2023: Gender Equality in Compensation 

The recently released “2023 Law Department Compensation Survey,” conducted by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) in collaboration with Empsight International, has revealed significant findings that suggest a positive shift in the gender pay gap among general counsel. This comprehensive survey, based on responses from 445 general counsel in the United States, offers valuable insights into compensation trends within the legal profession. 

The survey results challenge existing gender disparities in compensation among general counsel. Notably, when categorized by gender, men and women reported the same median total cash compensation, indicating that gender alone does not determine pay differentials. 

However, the survey’s most intriguing findings are related to minority and non-minority women, which present groundbreaking results. Minority women, regardless of the size or setting of the law department, reported a median total cash compensation of $325,000, marking an eight percent increase compared to their peers. 

In multi-lawyer departments, women, particularly non-minority women, reported significantly higher compensation. Women in these departments earned 19.5 percent more than men, and the gender pay gap between women in multi-lawyer departments and those in single-lawyer departments was minimal, with women in multi-lawyer departments earning only 3 percent less than their male counterparts.

Moreover, within multi-lawyer departments, non-minority women outperformed all groups in terms of compensation. They earned approximately 36 percent more than both non-minority men and minority women and over 50 percent more than minority men. 

It’s important to note that the compensation gender gap has not been entirely eliminated, especially in roles below the general counsel level. The survey data also reveals that compensation for minority male general counsel significantly lags behind their counterparts. 

Veta T. Richardson, President & CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel, expressed her enthusiasm for the survey results. She acknowledged that the survey represents a broad spectrum of U.S. companies and marks the first time in ACC’s history that non-minority women in multi-lawyer departments have emerged as among the highest-paid general counsel. 

She commended the women who have achieved the role of general counsel and negotiated higher compensation. However, Richardson emphasized the need to scrutinize the details and cautioned that the results are based on one year’s data. Thus, they do not indicate the complete elimination of the gender pay gap, especially for positions below the general counsel level and for minority male general counsel. Nonetheless, she remains optimistic about the progress made and anticipates a future without discussions about pay disparity. 

The “2023 Law Department Compensation Survey” represents one of the most extensive and comprehensive compensation datasets available for in-house legal professionals. Based on responses from 1,963 in-house legal professionals across the United States, the self-reported data provides an Executive Summary for public access and a Full Survey Report for purchase. These reports cover various job positions and companies of all revenue sizes, enabling law department professionals to benchmark their compensation and career planning. 

Additional benchmarking reports are available for purchase, representing nearly 18,000 professionals from various companies. These reports cater to law department leaders and HR professionals, facilitating the benchmarking of entire legal departments. 

Compensation is influenced by various factors, and the survey highlights several key drivers: 

  • Company Revenue: Compensation tends to be higher in larger companies compared to smaller ones, with CLOs in companies with revenue exceeding $5 billion earning significantly more. 
  • Legal Specialty: Certain practice areas, such as securities, healthcare, and banking and finance, consistently offer higher pay, while areas like insurance, HR/employment, and real estate tend to pay less. 
  • Law School Attended: Attending a top 20 law school is associated with higher base salary and total compensation across all positions surveyed. 
  • Law School Graduation Year: Those with more years of experience since graduating law school tend to have higher average compensation. 
  • Previous Work Experience: Having previous law firm experience before transitioning in-house results in higher average compensation across all positions surveyed. 

Key findings about the legal profession: 

  • Seventeen percent of respondents transitioned directly to in-house roles after law school, while the majority (seventy-seven percent) had law firm experience before going in-house. 
  • Thirty-seven percent of respondents changed jobs in the last two years, a four-point increase from the previous year, with the highest percentage observed in business services, pharmaceutical, and technology industries. 
  • Sixteen percent of respondents plan to change jobs in the coming year, reflecting a two percent decrease from the previous year’s results. 
  • Sixteen percent of respondents reported working full-time in the office, compared to eleven percent in the previous year, with a five percent reduction in those on a hybrid schedule. 
  • When assessing the most important aspects related to their job, respondents cited compensation (27 percent) as the top priority, followed by work-life balance and workload management (26 percent). Flexible schedules (5 percent) and work-related stress (3 percent) were deemed less important. 

The “2023 Law Department Compensation Survey” presents promising insights into the evolving landscape of compensation for general counsel. The data reveals encouraging signs of the gender pay gap narrowing, especially for women general counsel, whether they are minority or non-minority. However, it is crucial to interpret these findings with caution, as they are based on a single year of data and do not signify the complete elimination of the gender pay gap. Nonetheless, the results signify progress and inspire hope for a future without pay disparity discussions in the legal profession.