2020 In-House Counsel Compensation Survey: Average Salaries Up but Gaps Remain

  • June 01, 2020
  • Lynne Yryku

2020 In-House Counsel Compensation Survey: Average Salaries Up but Gaps Remain

The 2020 In-House Counsel Compensation & Career Survey results are in! Now in its sixth wave, the survey, developed jointly by the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association (CCCA) and The Counsel Network, provides the most up-to-date and robust analysis of in-house counsel compensation and career trends in Canada.

The results show that national average base salary stands at $167,500, an increase from $163,000 in 2018—but varies between organization types and location.

“The results, collected pre-pandemic, reveal that average base salaries are up and that over half (55%) of in-house counsel are satisfied with them,” says Daniel Bourque, Chair of the CCCA. “But unfortunately—and unsettlingly—they also show the gender wage gap continues and diversity in the legal profession remains a challenge.”

Higher Average Base Salaries

The survey found that the national average base salary is $167,500, a 3% increase from 2018. Much depends on the type of organization for which in-house counsel work—the average base salaries in publicly-quoted and privately-owned companies are higher than that in government or Crown corporations. Location matters too, as Ontario and Alberta have the higher average base salaries than the national average.

In terms of sectors, financial services and insurance continue to be the sector most represented by in-house counsel, followed by oil and gas, and government. This year, the highest average base salaries are found in the resources/mining/forestry sector ($224,000), manufacturing/automotive/aerospace/chemical sector ($193,000), and the oil and gas sector ($190,000). The largest gain was found in the resources/mining/forestry sector, which is up $31,000 from 2018.

Gender Wage Gap Continues

Again in 2020, Women continue to be paid 11% less than men in the same roles in the legal profession, unchanged from 2018. The most substantial gaps continue to be seen at higher wage levels, with 30% of males receiving a mean salary of over $200,000 compared to 19% of females who earn the same amount. 

“It’s disheartening to learn that while legal salary levels have changed across the board since the last compensation report issued in 2018, the nearly $20,000 gap between the average legal salary paid to men and women is unchanged,” notes Vivene Salmon, President of the Canadian Bar Association and in-house counsel at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “It is so disheartening that women still earn less than men at all job levels. The legal workforce cannot survive without women's labour. Our contributions need to be compensated equally, particularly in senior legal positions.”

One factor that partially explains the salary discrepancy between males and females relates to an analysis of gender and sector. When we compare the differences in base salary across the five sectors, we see that base salaries are the lowest for government, Crown corporations and not-for-profits—sectors that employ the highest proportion of females. However, there is more than that at play.

Diversity Remains a Challenge

Women are only one part of the unequal compensation story. Diverse lawyers are also experiencing challenges.

This year, for the first time, the wage gap between Racialized lawyers and non-Racialized lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities and those with none was collected. Just under one-quarter (23%) of the group identify as Racialized lawyers and report a mean salary $12,000 below that reported by non-Racialized lawyers, with racialized women lawyers earning the lowest of any compensation category.

Results also showed persons with disabilities (5%) report a mean salary $18,500 less than non-disabled persons. Workplace appears to be a factor in this finding – most lawyers with disabilities work in government or financial services, sectors with lower reported mean base salaries.    

“The legal profession continues to extol the importance of diversity, but the survey results show we need to remain focused and vigilant,” states Bourque. “While the pay disparity may be explained, in part, by the small sample size and the fact that persons who are Racialized also have a much lower number of years in practice (10.6 years vs 15.5 years), that is not enough. We have undertaken many initiatives over the years, and we must continue to do more.”

Salmon echoes his concern. “It is difficult to comprehend that this is still the case in 2020. This is exploitative and needs to change.”

Access to key data is essential to properly assess the situation and make the right decisions. The CCCA is proud to partner with The Counsel Network to produce this valuable, comprehensive and insightful compensation and career guide again to support our members and the in-house legal community.

Join Us for More Information

For a free copy of the survey report, visit our website (member login required).

For further details and analyses, see the archived webinar, “Keep Moving Forward: Using the 2020 In-House Counsel Compensation and Career Survey to Take Control of Your Career in Uncertain Times” (free for members).

About the Survey 

The 2020 In-House Counsel Compensation & Career Survey was commissioned by The Counsel Network in partnership with the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association (CCCA). This is the sixth wave of this research, with previous studies conducted in 2018, 2016, 2012, 2010 and 2009. The survey was conducted by Bramm Research between January 14, 2020, and February 28, 2020, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 1,141 respondents represented a good mix of in-house counsel from all major cities across Canada and included a variety of sectors and titles. The survey provides key information on compensation, benefits, work hours and job satisfaction for Canadian in-house counsel.