“Speaking very generally, private practice lawyers tend to move firms frequently, while their in-house counterparts stay put.” Sapna Bedi FitzGerald, chair of the Commerce & Industry Group and head of legal at LSL Property Services plc made this remark and believes that the lack of movement from job to job among many in-house lawyers helps create “salary stagnation” compared to partners in private practice. The quote comes from Corp. Counsel, Vol.16, Jan. 2008, at 57, which cites compensation data from Incomes Data Services Ltd.
Fitzgerald is probably wrong on both counts, mobility and compensation. I doubt that law firm partners change firms any more frequently than do experienced in-house lawyers. Even if they do, it is their eventual book of business that sets their draw, not some salary-based raise they negotiate. I doubt also that the average income of private practice lawyers (even several years out of law school, to match the most junior in-house counsel) in the U.S. exceeds the average cash compensation of private industry lawyers. Fitzgerald is reacting to the headline pay packets of partners at big firms but forgets the tens of thousands of lawyers who barely get by.