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Startup Counsel Salaries Going Up in Silicon Valley

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Until a startup is required to disclose compensation details, it's hard to know how much general counsel make there.

But according to reports, in-house counsel salaries are going up in 2017. And in Silicon Valley, the startups are putting it out there.

Julie Brush, writing for the Recorder, says the market has picked up for general counsel in the San Francisco Bay Area. She says the base salary is $250,000 to $300,000.

"Of all the compensation knobs, this one has turned the most in a forward direction for candidates," she wrote. "Rarely will the number exceed $300K or fall below $250K at the offer stage."

More Money, More Opportunities

Brush, who also runs a legal search firm, says startup salaries have increased 10 to 20 percent in the past decade. She said compensation depends on the stage of the company's life, but a "robust number" of jobs are available.

Robert Half Legal, which publishes annual reports on lawyer compensation, said legal salaries for in-house counsel will grow in 2017. The latest report said they range between $87,000 for new lawyers and up to $269,000 for lawyers with 10 years of experience.

"These figures reflect a 3.3% increase from 2016 for both the most experienced lawyers at the largest companies and the least experienced attorneys at smaller companies - with some areas in between peaking at a 5.0% increase," according to the In-house Blog.

Perks and Possibilities

Among other incentives offered, startups use signing bonuses to woo candidates. Bonuses range between $15,000 to $30,000, Brush says.

Target bonuses are less likely, she says, because many startups do not offer them at all. It is more likely after they grow and can compete for legal talent, offering target bonuses up to 50 percent.

On the other hand, stock offers are commonplace with startups. Brush says stock grants have settled around .25 to .65 percent as startups have learned about dealing with investors and the cost-benefit threshold of managing legal bills.

"Finally, it's important to note that private companies have less flexibility on cash than they do with stock because internal comp grids often limit their ability to go materially higher than their stated range," she says. "So if you are negotiating an offer, keep this in mind and understand that there will likely be more movement on the stock with a possibility of a signing bonus than there will be on the base compensation."

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