23 October 2019

General counsel find pay and position rewards

General counsel compensation continues to rise study finds as top in-house lawyers take on more business and strategic leadership roles.


General counsel at large US public companies continue to make steady gains in compensation, according to new research, as the job evolves into a more strategic and business-focused role, according to a report by Equilar and search firm BarkerGilmore.

Median salary rise

The study reveals the past five years has seen a 7.4 percent increase in general counsel median total compensation, rising from $2.6 million in 2018 and representing a 3.7 percent increase from the previous year. The study covers the 500 largest (by reported revenue) US-headquartered companies that trade on either Nasdaq, the NYSE or NYSE American. Across industries, the median total compensation for general counsel at healthcare companies is the highest, at $4 million in 2018. Technology ranks second, at $3.2 million, and financial services ranks third, at $3.1 million. The lowest-ranked industries are consumer goods ($2.15 million), utilities ($2.18 million) and services ($2.38 million). Performance incentives have become the largest component of general counsel compensation packages. Their median value in 2018 was $718,000 compared with $565,000 in salary, $461,000 in annual cash bonus targets and $301,000 in stock awards. In 2014 salary was the most valuable component.

Seat at the table

BarkerGilmore managing partner John Gilmore says long-term performance incentives for general counsel tend to be linked to the company’s performance, while short-term performance incentives are more personalized and factor in controlling legal department spend, diversity goals and reducing litigation. He adds that general counsel switch jobs mostly to gain greater responsibility rather than compensation. Mr Gilmore also confirmed the trend of general counsel now getting  “a seat at the table,” with more business and strategic leadership roles. This change has narrowed the compensation gap between general counsel and chief executives. The report can be found here. https://marketing.equilar.com/08-29-2019-gc-pay-trends.

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