What is the Average General Counsel & Chief Legal Officer Salary?

      Payscale estimates the average General Counsel salary is around $166,438. In 2020, Corporate Counsel carried out a survey of the country’s best-paid general counsels. The survey took into account the base salary, cash bonus, and non equity incentives of these GCs. At the top of the list was Alan Braverman of Walt Disney, with a total of above $8 million. 

      Other Chief Legal Officers on the list included Bruce Campbell at Discovery Communications ($5.9 million), Karen Seymour at CBS ($4.5 million), and finally, Michael O’Brien at Omnicrom Group ($4.1 million). These numbers are nowhere near the salaries of the regular Chief Legal Officer. 

      Whatever the total amount, we must differentiate between general counsel salary and total compensation. The base salary is just one component of the employee’s total compensation. The latter includes employees’ base salaries as well as all other benefits. Such benefits may be bonuses, commissions, stock shares (in publicly traded companies), or perks.

      Commissions are generally a reward for bringing or increasing a company’s sales. Bonuses are usually a result of meeting company goals or revenue targets. 

      So what exactly is the right CLO or GC compensation package to attract the best and most qualified talent to your company? The legal recruitment team here at Cowen Partners Executive Search breaks down the factors to consider.

      Chief Legal Officer Salary vs. General Counsel Salary Guide

      Both the General Counsel and the Chief Legal Officer are high-level legal executive roles in charge of a company’s legal matters. The position of CLO is newer and in some ways is simply an expansion of the general counsel role. The key difference between these two roles is the involvement in the company’s business. 

      A GC is more concerned with legal issues, like providing legal advice and assistance. Their job is to ensure that the company meets all of its legal obligations. A CLO, on the other hand, provides business solutions as well as legal advice. They need to have business and technology proficiency in addition to legal expertise.

      General Counsel & Chief Legal Officer Salary by Location

      There are various factors that determine the salary of a General Counsel or Chief Legal Officer. From the company structure to the industry, and the amount of revenue they generate. Cowen Executive Partners takes all these factors into consideration when matching CLOs and GCs.

      Another factor that no one can overlook is geographic location. Just as with any other company employee, geography has an impact on the salaries of GCs and CLOs. According to Investopedia, the highest paying state for lawyers is the District of Columbia. Others are California, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. 

      For instance, a GC or CLO in the District of Columbia can expect to earn a salary average of $192,530. At the bottom of the spectrum are lawyers in Wyoming, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Idaho, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina, Louisiana, and New Mexico who make between $74,690 and $107,120 annually.


      According to the 2020 In-house Counsel Compensation Survey, CLOs and GCs in the banking, advertising, and automotive industries receive the highest-earning incomes. The same applies to those in the energy and healthcare sectors. The survey also showed that GCs and CLOs in the financial sector receive the highest bonuses, followed by those in banking. 

      In 2019, General Counsel and Chief Legal Officers in the banking sector received the highest total compensation with an average of $758,308. On the other hand, GCs and CLOs in the government sector earned the lowest average total compensation at $219,038.

      Company Structure

      Another major determinant of the salary of a GC or CLO is the company’s financial structure. Base salaries, bonuses, as well as total compensation, are always higher in public companies than in private com­panies. In some cases, the margin is even wider.  

      The median base salaries for in-house legal positions are almost $25,000 lower in private companies than in public ones. At the GC and CLO level, the median total compensation is considerably higher in public companies than in private companies by a margin of $174,000.  

      Company Revenue

      There is a connection between company revenue and the salaries of GCs and CLOs. GCs at companies with more than $20 billion in revenue received a median $4.5 million in total compensation. Comparatively, GCs or CLOs at companies with revenue between $10 billion and $20 billion took home a median of $2.7 million. 

      Seniority and Tenure

      It comes as no surprise that length of tenure and seniority in legal positions affect compensation levels. Salary increases are substantially larger when moving from a non-man­agement-level position to a management-level po­sition like a legal director or managing counsel. 

      However, these large in­creases begin to reduce at the more senior levels such as assistant GC through CLO. 

      Additionally, the number of years of relevant legal experience directly affects compensation lev­els. So does the number of years worked at a company. 

      In 2019, GCs and CLOs who had worked with a company for less than 5 years took home an average salary of $308,383. Those who had remained with a company for over 30 years received an average total compensation of $600,333.

      A similar trend holds for years of relevant legal work experience. The average total compensation with 6 to 10 years of experience is $293,123. It increases to $401,768 after 11 to 15 years and reaches $607,538 after 31 years or more.

      Area of specialization

      According to the Survey, GCs and CLOs specializing in finance earn an average total compensation of $679,789. At the other end of the spectrum are CLOs and GCs specializing in employment and labor. 

      The five highest-paying practice areas also include technology and real estate. Others are corporate, securities & governance, and law department management.

      Check out CEO vs COO vs CFO Salary Averages Here

      Simplify & Hasten the CLO or GC Search and Hiring Process with Cowen Partners

      The role of a CLO or GC is an important one and is expedient to the growth and continuity of a company. A CLO has to know how to balance a company’s legal responsibilities with its need for profits. They also align both business and legal strategies. Other duties include reducing risks and proposing innovative business solutions.

      Unfortunately, most companies do not have a substantial CLO or GC succession plan in place. Company lawyers are often not involved with higher-level risk and governance issues. They’re more focused on the company’s day-to-day legal issues. As such, it can be difficult to single out a candidate to fill the position. 

      Due to the dynamic role and long list of expectations, finding the right CLO or GC successor can be demanding and time-consuming. It requires thorough research, personal attention, and the right connections. 

      Of course, there’s always the option of hiring an attorney interim. This would give the company time with the recruiting process.

      However, time is not a guarantee for a successful succession. Cowen Partners Executive Search is a leading executive search firm with years of experience and expertise. 

      We are interested in finding you qualified candidates. But not only that. We want to find those who can understand your company’s culture, needs, and financial goals. We’re not only efficient but timely, as well. 

      We’ll find the talent that is a successful fit for your team in a fraction of the time without the usual company disruptions.

      What is the Difference Between a General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer?

      In-house legal advisors are invaluable to a company. They understand the ins and outs of your business which gives them a better grasp of the potential risks and threats your company faces. High-level positions in charge of your company’s legal matters are even more critical as they oversee the company’s entire legal team. You may be considering hiring a general counsel or chief legal officer to run your company’s legal matters, but maybe you don’t know which position is best for your business. Below are the differences between a general counsel and a chief legal officer.

      General counsel

      A general counsel is considered a more traditional executive role within a company. The main focus of a GC is to manage a company’s legal compliance as well as corporate governance. The role of GC is also more closely aligned with a high-level lawyer which ensures the company’s legal obligations are all met. A few of a GC’s main job responsibilities are listed below.

      Job Responsibilities of a GC

      • Represent the company in court
      • Convey legal advice to company executives
      • Lead and manage the legal team
      • Communicate and oversee compliance regulations with government agencies

      Chief Legal Officer

      The role of chief legal officer is a newer position than the general counsel and in some ways is an expansion of the general counsel role. The CLO is a c-suite position that focuses on the legal department but is also responsible for providing valid business solutions to arising problems. Legal analysis is expected, but the CLO also keeps the company’s business model and goals in mind.

      The CLO is a multidimensional role that not only manages legal tact, but also aligns legal and business strategies, suggests innovative business solutions, mitigates risk, and ensures legal efficiency. Ultimately, a CLO stands apart from the GC role in that a CLO is often considered a strategic business partner.

      A few of the CLO’s main job responsibilities are listed below.

      Job Responsibilities of a CLO

      • Monitor legal changes that affect the company or the business’ industry
      • Develop curriculum to convey legal matters to employees
      • Oversees the hiring of internal and external legal teams
      • Mange compliance issues
      • Advise top executives on legal matters

      Should you hire a CLO or GC?

      Both positions will bring value to your company, but in different ways. A general counsel provides all of the legal advice and assistance you need. If you’re simply looking for some extra help managing your legal team and ensuring compliance is met in every possible way, then a GC is a great option.

      However, if you’re interested in a more involved role for your company that can provide business value in addition to legal advice, then the chief legal officer is a better choice. The CLO role has actually been gaining a lot of momentum lately and has been listed as the sixth fastest-growing C-suite title of 2020 at 23 percent growth, according to Workforce Insights. The position growth trend is understandable because a CLO provides a lot of value to a business. With a CLO, you have an employee who is dedicated to furthering the business and improving the bottom line while at the same time they ensure compliance is met along the way.

      What to look for in a Chief Legal Officer

      When hiring a chief legal officer, you want to make sure you’re choosing someone who not only understands the legal aspects of your business, but who can also manage the more strategic aspects of running a company. With this in mind, below are a few important characteristics you should look for in a CLO.

      1. Strategic thinker

      The CLO balances the legal aspects of the company while monitoring the repercussions and risks associated with new business moves. A CLO recognizes the legal risk of new ventures but can also place this decision in the bigger context of the business. Since a CLO understands the overall business goals and mission of the company, a CLO can view legal aspects of a business decision through the lens of running a successful business.

      1. Competent leader

      The legal team is usually managed by the CLO so you need a competent leader who will inspire and motivate employees to do their best work. You also want a dynamic leader in this position because they’ll also be interacting with corporate leadership and outside clients on a regular basis. The person in charge of your legal team, therefore, needs to be able to lead people from all different backgrounds.

      1. Decisive

      A decisive CLO is essential for successfully managing the legal aspects of your business. You don’t want someone in the role who will deliberate over decisions for weeks at a time. You want a confident CLO who can look at a legal query, efficiently analyze the benefits and risks, and then move forward with the process in a timely manner.

      Hiring the right chief legal officer or general counsel

      Recruiting executive-level in-house legal talent is a big move for your company, so make sure you do it right. Hire a team of experienced and knowledgeable executive recruiters to handle your legal recruiting.

      The benefits of a legal recruiting firm

      Your company likely takes months to find and hire a new employee. The processes of posting the job opening, sifting through applications, and setting up interviews is time consuming work but very important for your business. The truth is, however, even after all of this work the person you choose might not be the best fit for your company.

      An experienced legal recruiting firm makes the whole hiring process easier. Recruiters take over the task of finding qualified candidates for the general counsel or chief legal officer role you need filled. Recruiters have an extensive network of qualified talent they can access for your needs and also understand how to find the best legal talent to fit your company. Contact Cowen Partners to find out more about legal recruiting today.

      Cowen Partners is the nation’s executive search firm, enabling companies to harness the power of human capital to fuel their success. Cowen Partners gives our clients access to the top 1% of human capital to create opportunities that accelerate their growth and market share. With Cowen Partners, clients can grow at scale, create value, and drive results with world class talent.

      Our clients are both small and large, publicly traded, pre-IPO, private, and non-profit organizations. Clients are typically $50 million to multi-billion dollar revenue Fortune 1000 companies or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion. Successful placements span the entire C-Suite and include VP and Director level leadership roles.

      With our proven processes and guaranteed results, we have successfully placed hundreds of candidates in industries including technology, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, financial services, and private equity.

      Do you want to explore in-house counsel options such as General Counsel or Chief Legal Officer? Contact Us

      Read more our other industry-leading resources to see why Cowen Partners is one of the nation’s top executive search firms in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Los Angeles, and beyond:

      Companies Need Business Minded General Counsels

      General counsels are currently expected to take on more responsibilities than ever before within their organizations. In the past, their main job was to guard the company against legal and ethical offenses, but the role is so much more than that now. In addition to avoiding legal infractions, general counsels are expected to provide strategic planning advice for the executive team. In fact, many directors believe one of the general counsel’s most valuable functions is to advise the board as well as the executive team on business strategy.

      Evolving in-house counsel roles

      New corporate realities have evolved over the years to include a diverse scope of enterprise risks which has correspondingly broadened the role of in-house counsel. Executive teams are looking for general counsels who can not only juggle the litigation aspects of the business but who can also contribute to the company goals. Ultimately, a GC needs to be able to fulfill business promises, manage the legal department, and provide significant company value.

      When looking for a general counsel, most directors and officers are looking for someone with two main attributes: in-depth legal expertise and sound judgment. The third attribute, however, that many teams highly prize is business acumen. Company leaders believe a general counsel with these three attributes will be successful in the position and will be a valued strategic advisor to the company.

      It’s expected that a general counsel will have broad legal knowledge, but legal acumen is no longer enough to succeed as a corporate legal executive. General counsels need to be willing to acquire a better understanding of the business and industry they work in. A well-rounded GC will contribute to the growth and success of a company, not just serve as a legal watchdog.

      Sound business understanding makes a better GC

      What business leaders are starting to realize is that general counsel can provide better legal advice when they have a thorough understanding of the business and industry. A GC is involved in important contract negotiations and makes impactful company decisions on a regular basis.

      A deeper understanding of internal and external company dealings allows the GC to weigh the various business implications and make a decision that will benefit the company. In-house counsel with a strong grasp on enterprise risk management as well as a solid understanding of the business and industry can provide much more value to the business strategy on a regular basis.

      Plan for succession

      A majority of companies do not have a solid general counsel succession plan in place. Many law departments are running on lean budgets so it can be difficult to single out a candidate for succession. It’s also difficult to determine a general counsel’s successor when the company attorneys all work on the day-to-day business needs and are rarely involved with higher-level risk and governance issues.

      In most cases, companies look to an executive recruiting firm to benchmark internal candidates against external talent. While internal candidates may have the business knowledge executive teams seek, the dynamic role and long list of GC expectations make finding the right candidate for the job a high priority. Companies don’t want to be limited to internal applicants, so they open the role up to external candidates to find the very best match for their needs.

      Culture fit and the ability to act as a reliable advisor are two key factors directors typically consider when searching for in-house counsel. Emotional intelligence, in particular, is prized amount GC candidates because high emotional intelligence often signals better stress management during high-stress situations. People with high EI are also more likely to build strong relationships and are known for being thoughtful. These two characteristics make it easier for a GC to connect with others and become a well-trusted advisor.


      Corporate directors today are looking for a lot more in a general counsel than legal advice. Expectations for GCs are high, and these expectations aren’t likely to change in the future. When searching for a general counsel, it would be wise to seek a candidate with cross-educational training in business or someone who has extensive on-the-job experience. A great general counsel candidate will have just the right mix of legal acumen, business insight, and strategic know-how. A combination of these three competencies makes a strong candidate who will succeed in the expected role and contribute to the company’s overall growth.

      Cowen Partners is a national executive search and consulting firm. Our clients are both small and large, publicly traded, pre-IPO, private, and non-profit organizations. Clients are typically $50 million to multi-billion dollar revenue Fortune 100 companies or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion. Successful placements span the entire C-Suite and include VP and director level leadership roles.https://cowenpartners.com/general-counsel-executive-search-firm/embed/#?secret=6XgKmIypbt

      Finding Top In-House Legal Talent

      Capable in-house legal talent is a vital part of your company’s team, and finding top legal talent is necessary if you expect to compete in today’s economy. You cannot afford to make mistakes when locating the right candidate for Chief Legal Officer, Corporate Counsel, General Counsel, or other key legal positions.

      Cities include; New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and Phoenix.

      As a leading executive search firm, Cowen Partners specializes in finding in-house counsel and legal officers that fit your needs. We know the legal recruiting process from all sides and have a proven track record of success. When you work with us, you can rest assured knowing we will find you exceptional talent with outstanding credentials. We evaluate everything from legal experience, executive leadership, and emotional intelligence to core competencies and culture fit. Our assessment of candidates is top-notch so we can find you the perfect fit for your company.

      Legal Executive Search Firm

      It can take your company months to fill in-house legal positions and even once the job is filled the candidate might not be a good fit. A general counsel or chief counsel role and other key law department positions need to be filled quickly with the right qualified professionals.

      At Cowen Partners, we take a proactive approach and have a private network from which to pull qualified candidates to fill your needs. Our legal recruitment team can find you top talent with not only the right qualifications, but also someone who will connect with the company leadership and culture. We are incredibly timely, too. Our average time to fill is only 38 days compared to a 100-day industry average. By engaging us as your legal executive recruiting agency, you receive top talent for all your essential legal positions. We have experiencing placing executive legal talent in a wide variety of industries and will have no problem finding the right candidate for your company.

      Effectively Recruit the General Counsel Your Company Needs

      A general counsel or chief counsel role is expected to take on more responsibility than ever. Executive teams often rely on their general counsel to be a lead strategist within the company. The right general counsel for your organization will have a solid understanding of your business needs and stay on top of ever-evolving legal obligations. We understand that each general counsel position and role are different depending on the company’s needs. We will help you find a top candidate that has all of the qualifications and competencies necessary for the role. Our retained executive search consultants know how to recognize top legal talent from years of experience as well as the use of proven hiring strategies.

      In today’s complex world, you can’t afford to hire the wrong person for your legal needs. Cowen Partners is an established legal executive search firm which is why companies trust us with their talent recruiting needs. We know how to find talent that will improve your business operations and be a successful fit for your team.

      Do you want to explore in-house counsel options such as General Counsel or Chief Counsel? Contact Us

      Cowen Partners Executive search provides recruitment services to all major and minor industries including:

      Accounting, Advertising, Aerospace & Defense, Biotechnology, Banking, Board and CEO Services, Computer Hardware, Construction, Consulting, Consumer Products, Computer Software and Hardware, Education, Energy & Utilities, Entertainment & Sports, Finance, Financial Services, Food Products, Government, Human Resources, Health Care, Hospitality & Tourism, Insurance, Industrial, Internet & New Media, Legal, Journalism & Publishing, Marketing, Manufacturing, Medical Device, Non-Profit, Pharmaceutical, Real Estate, Retail & Apparel, Sales, Technology, Telecommunications and Transportation.

      Read more of our C-Suite resources to see why Cowen Partners is a leading retained executive search firm in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Los Angeles, and beyond:

      Get in Touch.

      Fill out the email request form to learn more about our approach.