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Flipping Out: The $15/hour, 24/7/365 Corporate Counsel

All this talk of in-house megabucks brings to mind the plight of Stephen R. Williams.

Williams works in-house – and all hours – with a multi-facility hospital network in the Midwest. He also writes a column, in what little spare time he has, for Above the Law. This summer, Williams let off a little steam in a nifty rant about comp – his comp – which is in white-shoe territory – assuming those shoes are on the feet of a hospital orderly.

Williams’ piece caused a stir. William Vogeler, a California-based entertainment lawyer, posted about it on FindLaw’s Corporate Counsel Blog under the cheeky headline, “In House Job Wanted: Must Pay More Than $15 an Hour.”

“That’s right,” Vogeler writes, “in-house attorneys sometimes make less than burger flippers.”

Here’s Williams on what it’s like to be “on and in service” for your client all day, every day.

“Let’s not forget the bat phone,” he says. “Since our hospital truly is a 24/7/365 operation, each evening my fellow in-house counsel and I rotate who keeps a special cell phone with them that the night-shift hospital employees are instructed to call at any time in case of emergency.”

It all adds up to long strings of 18-hour days. Based on a $100,000 annual salary, which is right in line with what healthcare counsel pull down, according to the ACC Global Compensation Survey, his enviable role as in-house counsel returns a whopping (no disrespect to the Big Mac intended) $15.52/hour.

Sure, Williams is playing a game with the numbers. But it’s a game with a point.

“As in-house [counsel], we do enjoy the chance for a better work-life balance than our Big Law colleagues, but . . . it is not without cost,” he says. “For me, each extra hour I log results in yet another scorned look from my wife as I respond to an email at the dinner table rather than engage in the family discussion.”

His advice: Do the math before taking that in-house dream job. Otherwise, repeat after Williams: “Do you want fries with that order, sir?”