Highest paid practice areas for US in-house counsel

Drawing on data from the most recent Hildebrandt benchmark survey, InsideCounsel, March 2008 at 59, lists the highest paid practice areas for in-house attorneys.

Trademark Litigation $258,200
International $242,000
IP-General $234,500
IP-Licensing $234,000
Mergers/Acquisitions $231,000
Compliance $229,100

This curious set of figures deserves dissection. Patent litigation is much more common in most industries, much more expensive than trademark suits, and usually much more crucial, so I suspect that the highest paid group of lawyers actually spend more time managing patent litigation than trademark litigation (See my post of April 9, 2006: benchmark metrics on patent, copyright and trademark data by five industries.). I also doubt that law departments have many, if any, pure trademark litigators. They have litigation lawyers who handle trademark (or patent) lawsuits, but those lawyers are likely to be general-purpose litigators.

International lawyers coming in second may be a function of years out of law school, relative scarcity (See my posts of March 19, 2006: percentage of lawyers in-house who label their practice “international” stands at less than 10 percent; and July 20, 2005: practice area benchmarks.), or demand. What occurred to me also is that ex pat lawyers, who are paid handsomely for the foreign posting, may drive up this figure (See my post of Oct. 10, 2005: ex pat costs.).

As for the following four practice areas, the differences among them are so modest that it may be wrong to claim that these are statistically reliable differences. If we knew how many positions were in each group we might be able to say that the differences are meaningful, but as the data is presented these levels may be statistically the same.

Finally, I am surprised that Compliance ranks as high as it does. Often the compliance function is a step-child of the legal department and often there are relatively few lawyers in the function (See my post of Dec. 2, 2007.).

I thought that antitrust lawyers would have made the list of highest paid, because the advice they provide counts for so much. Perhaps there were not enough incumbents in that rarified group.

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