ACC Census Shows Growth for Women in Numbers, but Not in Salary, Says ACC’s Richardson

Topics: Corporate Legal, Reports & White Papers, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) recently released its 2015 ACC Global Census Report, which gathered responses from more than 5,000 in-house counsel in 73 countries, providing insight into areas such as the role of in-house counsel during a merger, the growth of women lawyers in the ranks and how and when in-house counsel hires outside lawyers. Legal Executive Institute caught up to Veta Richardson, ACC’s president & CEO, and asked her what she was seeing in this survey.

Legal Executive Institute: How did this year’s survey compare to previous years in terms of emerging or continuing trends?

Richardson: The 2015 ACC Global Census Report revealed a significant number of in-house lawyers whose companies are undergoing mergers and acquisitions. This fits into the worldwide trend of increased M&A activity over the past few years. With global mergers and acquisitions on pace to set records in 2015, it is fitting that 40% of in-house lawyers surveyed work in a company that experienced a merger or acquisition in the last year. Similarly, consultation with outside counsel for M&A grew significantly in 2015 compared to 2011. And on the subject of outside counsel, in-house lawyers have reported marginal growth in hiring of outside counsel. This reverses the decline we saw in the last Census, which we conducted in 2011.

Veta Richardson, ACC Pres. & CEO

Veta Richardson, ACC Pres. & CEO

We also saw a shift in the practice areas where in-house counsel were most likely to hire outside lawyers, with the exception of litigation, which is always the leading category. In 2015, the other top retention areas were employment and labor and intellectual property. This stands in contrast to 2011, when the top areas exclusive of litigation were bankruptcy/creditor issues and regulatory issues — two areas that did not even make the Top 10 this year. Given the state of the global economy in 2011, which was mainly still recovering from the 2007 financial crisis, it seems like outside counsel hiring provides a good barometer on the top issues of concern for the in-house community.

LEI: In terms of salaries, what were the emerging trends?

Richardson: One of the most disappointing salary trends this year was that women were most likely to occupy the lowest salary ranks, regardless of how long they had worked in their positions. So women who serve as in-house counsel fare no better than women in other professional sectors. With women now representing 49.5% of the in-house population — just shy of half — it was especially frustrating to see the significant gender disparities in in-house earnings. While 69% of women said their salaries fell under Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) $200,000, only 56% of men reported earnings below this level.

The majority (70%) of in-house counsel respondents to the Census earn between PPP $100,000 and $299,000, and among those respondents, the most common salary range was PPP $150,000 to $199,000. We did observe, however, that base salaries this year were more likely to be in the highest and lowest salary categories rather than the mid-range, which was previously the case, meaning that there is a widening gap between the highly paid and the lesser paid.

The Census also highlighted interesting salary data by industry and geographic location. In-house counsel in the Middle East/North Africa were the most likely to report salaries over PPP $200,000, while in-house lawyers in the defense and pharmaceutical industries reported the highest salaries by industry.

LEI: Has there been any major demographic shift among the survey respondents?

Richardson: Yes, we tracked notable demographic shifts since the last Census, and primarily among women. The percentage of women occupying in-house positions has reached a near 50-50 split — a quite dramatic increase over 2011 and something we attribute to generational shifts in the workplace. In 2015, women represented 49.5% of corporate counsel, compared to 41% in 2011, which represents a 21% [or 8.5 percentage-point] increase.

Notably, we have also seen this trend in leadership roles. For example, in the ACC Chief Legal Officers (CLO) 2015 Survey, the percentage of women occupying the CLO/General Counsel role was 12 percentage points higher among Generation X-age lawyers than among Baby Boomers. We are also seeing increases in the percentage of all in-house counsel who are minorities, with that growing from 15% in 2011, to about 17% in 2015. Like we see with women lawyers, minorities are now increasingly being named to CLO roles.