Which Kind of Law Pays Best?

A pay survey of Israeli attorneys asks the question, ‘Where’s the money;’ the answer, big surprise, is finance and high-tech.

If you’ve landed a position as corporate counsel to a publicly traded company or a partnership in a law firm, you're almost certainly among the country’s richer attorneys. If you're a man, you’re probably even better off than your female colleagues.

A survey conducted by TheMarker and the legal recruitment firm Codex reveals the extent to which you’ve got it made. Experienced lawyers grossed NIS 29,300 a month on average in 2012, said the survey, which polled some 400 attorneys with at least six years of experience and earning more than NIS 23,000 a month.

On average, men earn more than women, the survey found. For example, a male attorney with six to eight years’ experience grossed an average of NIS 28,100 in 2012, while a female lawyer with the same number of years in the profession earned an average of NIS 22,600.

The gender gap widened over time: Male lawyers with nine or more years of experience earned NIS 32,700 a month, while female lawyers earned only NIS 25,100.

“The big gaps between men and women at the most senior levels is not unique to the legal profession and prevails in most sectors of the economy,” notes Elinor Mor, CEO of Codex. “The profession in recent years has made great strides, and the number of female attorneys becoming partners or corporate counsels has risen sharply.”

Nevertheless, she says, the profession has a long way to go toward complete salary equality.

Where the big money is

According to the survey, the big bucks go to lawyers who work for publicly traded companies. The average monthly salary last year for an attorney at a publicly traded company was NIS 38,000, compared to NIS 32,800 on average at a non-public company.

Lawyers working for international companies earned an average of NIS 37,900, while those employed at local companies earned an average of NIS 33,500.

Broken down by expertise, corporate counsels specializing in mergers and acquisitions make the most NIS 37,200 a month on average in 2012, according to the survey. Next in line are those involved in sales and distribution agreements, who earn an average of NIS 34,400 gross, followed by those engaged in intellectual property law, with NIS 34,100.

Among attorneys working in private law offices, those specializing in high tech are the salary leaders, with a monthly average of NIS 32,600. Next in line are those working in the capital markets, who average NIS 30,100. Domestic and international trade and services follows, with a gross of NIS 28,700 a month.

Mor notes that most companies outsource legal services for contractual agreements and securities offerings, with corporate counsel supervising them. However, most big high-tech and global companies have large in-house legal departments and manage most of their legal needs without outside help. Defense companies also employ plenty of in-house lawyers, mainly because they have concerns about security leaks, Mor says.

“The most lucrative area for law firms high tech and the capital markets are sectors where there is a lot of money constantly changing hands all the time,” says Mor. “These areas require a particularly high level of expertise that includes, among other things, English as mother tongue.”

“There’s a lot of demand in the market for high-quality candidates who have accumulated mileage, which makes employers more willing to pay high salaries,” she explains. “These candidates always have good alternatives, like moving to a competing firm, a boutique firm or a company. The compensation offered to them is always rising as they move work places.”

On the other hand, she adds, the work can at times demand long hours.

Bonus round

Another wide gap exists between the annual bonuses awarded to corporate counsels and attorneys who work for law firms. The average bonus for a senior in-house attorney was NIS 85,000 in 2012, compared with NIS 54,100 for a lawyer working at a firm.

As generous at that may seem, the average bonus in 2011 was even better, according to the survey: NIS 86,500 for corporate counsels and NIS 68,700 for attorneys at law firms.

For corporate counsels, the average bonus was a stunning NIS 105,900 in 2011. And for their deputies, it was NIS 54,200. Rank-and-file in-house lawyers got about NIS 40,000, according to the survey.

About 70% of the bonuses for corporate lawyers were performance-related, while the rest were built into attorneys’ contracts.

Equity partners in law firms generally the founders or managing partners of the firms do best of all, with 2012 bonuses averaging NIS 136,200.

The most senior partners at law firms can also enjoy wage increments, options and commissions from the firm’s total turnover above and beyond any bonuses to which they are entitled. Only 36% of law firm attorneys said they received a percentage of the fees for cases they worked on.

Keeping with the trend, male corporate lawyers are typically awarded bigger bonuses than female lawyers NIS 86,500 on average, compared to NIS 82,700. At law firms, the gap is even wider, with male attorneys averaging NIS 57,700 and females getting only NIS 43,000.

“The level of bonuses varies based on personal professional achievements and the assessment of [the attorney’s] contribution to the firm,” says Mor. “At a firm they measure this contribution by, among other things, bringing in new clients and expanding the practice. As a rule, bonuses to senior attorneys range from two to four monthly salaries every year.”

For the equity partners, bonuses are tied to the firms’ annual profits. They often get special bonuses for one-time achievements, for instance by overseeing an important securities offering, closing down a large business, or a major victory in a legal case.

The survey also found that attorneys working as corporate counsels for companies with six to eight years of experience behind them averaged salaries of NIS 34,700 a month, while those working as partners in law firms earned NIS 30,100 gross.

But Mor warns aspiring corporate lawyers to look beyond the salary figures when considering what kind of lifestyle they want. “

At most companies, corporate counsels are required to work until late into the night during periods of high pressure and to be available 24 hours a day,” she says. “The primary responsibility lies on their shoulders and can’t be divided among several lawyers, which is different than the situation at law firms.”

The data, based on a questionnaire distributed by TheMarker and the Association of Corporate Counsel Israel, were analyzed by the research and consulting group Midgam.