In-house teams grow faster than law firms - report

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Australia’s in-house legal functions are growing faster than private-practice outfits, according to the “Mahlab 2018” report.

The study found at least 10% growth in existing in-house teams in financial year 2017-18, even as organisations created more internal legal functions within the year.

The growth in existing internal legal teams is driven by increasing regulation heightening legal needs of companies, which are also feeling the pressure to reduce external legal spends.

Organisations have been driven to create in-house legal teams by a change in the environment, such as when there are IPOs, takeover challenges, major litigation, or major events like capital raisings, Mahlab found. Furthermore, overseas investors also consider the general counsel as a key member of the leadership team and often query companies that do not have a person in the role.

Modest pay growth

In-house lawyers experienced modest pay growth in fiscal 2017-18, data revealed. Most organisations stuck to CPI or just a little above, at 2.6% growth.

Rewards were handed out via short-term incentives (STI) and long-term incentives (LTI). STIs were 5% to 10% of base salary for junior lawyers, 10% to 20% of base salary for mid-level lawyers, and up to 50% of base salary for senior lawyers.

LTIs were more common for senior-level lawyers – such as general counsel and deputy general counsel at the executive level – and among ASX-listed companies. These lawyers are typically given equity worth 30% to 50% of their base salary upon commencement.

Government pay still lags behind private organisations, Mahlab said, though the gap is narrowing. The benefits of government roles – which includes interest and quality of work, work-life balance, and responsibility – often outweigh the lower pay, it said.

Pay differences based on location

The report also found that pay for in-house lawyers is often significantly different depending on their location.

The study found that pay ranges for in-house lawyers based on location and experience are:


  • 1 year: $62,000 to $70,000
  • 5 years: $100,000 to $140,000
  • 10+ years: $170,000 to $225,000


  • 1 year: $65,000 to $85,000
  • 5 years: $120,000 to $160,000
  • 10+ years: $180,000 to $255,000


  • 1 year: $62,000 to $83,000
  • 5 years: $125,000 to $155,000
  • 10+ years: $180,000 to $250,000


  • 1 year: $70,000 to $85,000
  • 5 years: $120,000 to $158,000
  • 10+ years: $190,000 to $250,000


  • 1 year: $70,000 to $90,000
  • 5 years: $130,000 to $169,000
  • 10+ years: $200,000 to $275,000


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