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In an effort to demystify compensation for in-house legal professionals in the US, we ran a salary survey in collaboration with In-House Connect.

This survey received over 850 responses, covering numerous roles in the in-house legal community. Of these respondents, nearly 50 people held the title of Chief Legal Officer (CLO).

In this post, we will do a detailed breakdown of the average compensation for a Chief Legal Officer in the US. The data spans various key factors: years of experience (YOE), gender, location across the US, industries, office setups, and company financing stages—providing you with a comprehensive view of the compensation landscape.

Let’s dive in.

Note: All numbers below are annualized.

On average, a Chief Legal Officer makes USD 672,745

This figure is a combination of base salary, bonuses, and equity options—across various factors including location, years of experience, gender, industry, office setup, and the company's financing stage.

In comparison, a Head of Legal Operations’ compensation is USD 225,900 and a General Counsel’s compensation reaches USD 432,077, on average.

Salary components

Average base salary: USD 348,976

This average base salary lays the foundation of a CLO's compensation package.

This figure is 82% higher than the average base salary for a Head of Legal Operations and 27% higher than the average base salary offered to a General Counsel.

Average target bonus: USD 131,895

The average target bonus for a CLO is 460% higher than what a Head of Legal Operations gets and 62% higher than that of a General Counsel.

Average equity component: USD 191,874

At USD 191,874, average equity grants form a significant part of a CLO's compensation. 

The average equity component for a CLO is more than 17 times higher than that of a Head of Legal Operations and 2.5 times higher than that of a General Counsel.
Average CLO compensation by base, bonus, and equity components
As per our survey, the highest salary for a CLO was found to be USD 2,900,000—including all components—in San Francisco.

Salary data by years of experience

More experience not only translates into a higher base salary but also significantly affects bonus and equity components, as shown below:

Chief Legal Office salary data by years of experience
The average work experience among CLOs stood at 22 years.

Gender-based compensation for Chief Legal Officers

As per our data, female CLOs make more than male CLOs.

On average, male CLOs get 21% lower salaries than their female counterparts.
This is in contrast to other in-house legal roles as men make 16% more than their female counterparts. Learn more in our full compensation report for in-house legal professionals.
Chief Legal Officer Compensation by Gender

Geographic locations play a role in determining a Chief Legal Officer’s salary

Location significantly influences CLO compensation, reflecting the cost of living and the local demand for legal expertise.

Chief Legal Officer Compensation by Location

Industry influence on a Chief Legal Officer’s compensation

Industries like Professional Services and Real Estate & Construction stand out, with base salaries at $464,000 and equity components going as high as $1,250,000 respectively—showcasing the substantial variability across sectors.

Chief Legal Officer Compensation by Industry

The impact of office setup on salary

Hybrid work models report a lower base of $339,381, while on-site CLOs have a higher base of $390,714.

The same is reflected across bonus and equity components—with on-site roles offering more money.

Chief Legal Officer Compensation by Office Setup

Compensation based on the financing stage of a company

From Seed to Public companies, base salaries increase with company maturity, highlighting the evolving compensation landscape as organizations grow.

CLO Compensation by Company Financing Stage

Average bonus component

  1. Series A: USD 26,500
  2. Series B: USD 27,264
  3. Series D: USD 60,750
  4. Late Stage/Growth: USD 185,000
  5. Private: USD 195,800
  6. Private Equity Owned: USD 121,182
  7. Public: USD 257,700

Average equity component

Notably, Series C and Series D companies offer significant equity components, emphasizing the potential for long-term gains.

  1. Seed: USD 300,000
  2. Series A: USD 28,650
  3. Series B: USD 162,512
  4. Series C: USD 2,750,000
  5. Series D: USD 2,383,333
  6. Late Stage/Growth: USD 216,667
  7. Private: USD 595,000
  8. Private Equity Owned: USD 647,500
  9. Public: USD 1,130,000

Command better salary packages as a Chief Legal Officer

This report is designed to offer transparency and insights into a Chief Legal Officer's salary package within the US. 

By understanding these compensation trends, CLOs and aspiring legal executives can better navigate their career paths, armed with knowledge of what to expect and how to position themselves in the evolving market.

The findings underscore the importance of experience, gender parity efforts, geographic location, industry, office setup, and company financing stage in shaping compensation for top legal executives. 

We hope this detailed overview serves as a tool for both current CLOs and those aspiring to reach the executive level, providing a clear picture of the compensation ecosystem in the United States.

If you are interested in learning about compensation for other in-house legal professionals such as Head of Legal Operations, General Counsel, Associate General Counsel, etc., click here.

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