The field of law is diverse, and so are its earnings. So naturally, a lawyer in the private sector can expect to earn notably more than their counterparts in state or local government.
This article will break down salary prospects for corporate lawyers and the various factors that influence how much one can expect to earn. In addition, it will look at what the position of a corporate lawyer entails and the requirements to become one.
What does a corporate lawyer do?
Corporate lawyers are attorneys who specialize in the field of corporate law. The role of a corporate lawyer is to ensure a company’s transactions comply with corporate laws and regulations. In addition, they assist clients during business transactions by conducting research, preparing documents, assessing partnerships, and negotiating deals.
Corporate lawyers may work at a law firm or as part of a company’s legal department, traditionally in office settings. Because of the fast-paced corporate work environment, the working hours of a corporate lawyer can be taxing, often requiring overtime.
A corporate lawyer’s responsibilities include:
- Managing legal proceedings by preparing appropriate legal documents;
- Representing the company in any legal proceeding;
- Assessing and planning corporate mergers, acquisitions and other large scale strategic deals;
- Guiding management on its rights and obligations to ensure compliance with legal regulations;
- Examining and advising on legal issues associated with new products, services or technologies;
- Designing and overseeing the corporation’s legal policy.
To become a corporate lawyer, you need to:
- Earn a bachelors degree in law or related discipline;
- Complete an internship, e.g. in a local law firm, government office or legal clinic;
- Apply for American Bar Association- accredited law school;
- Earn your Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree;
- Pass the bar exam;
- Get licensure in your state;
- Network, gain experience and develop your resume. Corporations usually require at least three years of experience.
- Excellent negotiation and communication skills;
- Administrative and managerial skills;
- Analytical ability and strong attention to detail;
- Research skills;
- Creative problem-solving.
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Several factors determine the salary of a corporate lawyer:
1. Size/value of the corporation
The salary of a corporate lawyer is determined by the corporation they work for, its size, and how highly it is valued. One of the reasons why lawyers working for the largest companies in the United States are so highly compensated is their ability to prosecute costly lawsuits, thus ultimately saving these companies millions of dollars in settlements or judgments.
Pay for first-year corporate lawyers has skyrocketed, with some corporations now offering fresh graduates more than $200,000 starting salaries. For example, as the Wall Street Journal reported, New York-based corporate law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, with 975 attorneys, upped pay for 2021 law school graduates to $202,500.
A recent survey from the National Association for Law Placement found that the median first-year corporate lawyer at a firm with more than 700 employees made $190,000 per year at the beginning of 2021 — an increase of more than 20 per cent from 2017 even without taking the most recent raises into account.
2. Location of corporation
Significant differences depend on geography – the location of the company. For example, topping the list for the highest-paid corporate lawyer salary is Washington, with Maryland and Nebraska close behind in second and third. It is also important to remember that the highest paying jobs will typically be in metropolitan areas.
With only a handful of states paying above the national average, the possibilities for economic advancement by relocating should be made with great vigilance, however. It is also essential to factor in living costs, which can vary vastly throughout the country.
3. Quality and level of education
The best graduates of top law schools can expect higher starting salaries and promising careers, provided they performed well during their internships and have the proper skill set. Forbes (in collaboration with Payscale.com) lists several first-rate programs, such as Columbia Law School, whose alumni can expect an average entry-level salary of $162,000.
Other institutions in the field that produce top-earners include Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School and the University of Virginia, whose graduates in their mid-career can expect to earn between $200,000 and $230,000.
While a Bachelor’s degree and a Juris Doctorate are a prerequisite of becoming a corporate lawyer, further study, such as training programs or an additional Masters degree, can increase your prospects of better pay.
Another factor that affects the salary of a corporate lawyer is what industry the job is in. Indeed, jobs with professional services, energy, and hospitality companies tend to be the most lucrative option.
For instance, a corporate lawyer can expect to make $180,926 annually while working for professional services companies. Meanwhile, corporate lawyers working for energy or hospitality companies can expect respectively $158,082 and $138,635. The lowest salaries are in the manufacturing industry, offering a yearly salary of $109,810.
Generally, the corporate lawyer salary will increase with years of experience and continuous employment.
Salary by experience level
- Entry-level (less than 1-year experience)
An entry-level corporate lawyer can expect to earn an average total salary (includes tips, bonus and overtime pay) of $96,472.
- Early-career (1-4 years of experience)
An early-level corporate lawyer can expect to earn an average total salary (includes tips, bonus and overtime pay) of $102,642.
- Mid-career (5-9 years of experience)
A mid-level corporate lawyer can expect to earn an average total salary (includes tips, bonus and overtime pay) of $114,699.
- Experienced (10-19 years of experience)
An experienced corporate lawyer can expect to earn an average total salary (includes tips, bonus and overtime pay) of $130,241.
- Late-career (20+ years of experience)
In their late career, a corporate lawyer can expect to earn an average total salary (includes tips, bonus and overtime pay) of $157,039.
On top of a competitive salary, a corporate lawyer can expect various perks, including:
- Health, vision and dental insurance;
- Loan assistance;
- Visa sponsorship;
- 401 (k) retirement savings plan;
- Paid vacation;
- Paid parental leave;
- Remote work;
- Paid jury duty;
- Fitness club discounts.
To sum up, those interested in becoming a corporate lawyer should assess the several aspects that factor into pay. While there is not much leeway around the educational path one must take to become a corporate lawyer, it has been shown that completing a course in one of the top Ivy League schools will warrant a sizeable increase in starting salary. The most important consideration, though, is the size and value of the corporation you’ll end up working for, with some offering mind-bending entry-level wages of $200,000—the bigger the company, in this case, the better.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the starting salary of a corporate lawyer?
In most cases, a corporate lawyers’ salary will start somewhere between $50,000 and $160,000, with the median pay being around $95,000 a year, depending on the corporation’s size, location, and wealth.
What is the income of an experienced corporate lawyer?
Depending on years of experience, a mid to late-career corporate lawyer can expect an annual median salary of around $114,000 to $160,000, with a possibility of $300,000 a year.
What factors play into the salary?
Various factors can determine the salary, including the size and value of the company as well as the industry and location of that corporation—moreover, the level and quality of education and the extent of experience.
What are the tasks of a corporate lawyer?
To ensure that company transactions comply with laws and regulations. Furthermore, developing company policy and position on legal issues to researching and guarding a corporation against legal action/risk.
How can you become a corporate lawyer?
After finishing a Bachelors degree in Law or a related subject, you will have to earn a Juris Doctorate at an American Bar Association-accredited law school. Therefore, getting as much practical working experience as possible is crucial before applying for a job (e.g. internships, part-time work, networking).