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Study: It pays to be general counsel

Study: It pays to be general counsel

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General counsels saw about a 10 percent increase in total compensation from 2015 to 2016, with a nearly 40 percent increase in bonuses over that year, according to a report from global recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa.

The report looked at compensation data for more than 2,000 in-house counsel, including general counsel and non-general counsel, across a range of industries.

The increase in compensation is a sign of the growing influence of general counsels from serving in a legal capacity to other parts of a business, said Mike Sachs, a partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s in-house practice group.

“Rather than simply overseeing the legal department, GCs have become an integral partner to the C-Suite. As a result, their compensation is reflecting their new roles as strategic decision makers and trusted advisors to the CEO,” he said.

In-house counsel at other levels saw a slight dip in compensation, with average base salaries dropping from $210,000 in 2015 to $208,000 in 2016. The average bonus for non-general counsel decreased from $71,000 in 2015 to $68,000 in 2016.

The report also showed a disparity in total compensation between genders. In 2016, male in-house counsel outpaced female in-house counsel in salaries and bonuses: base salaries for male general counsels were 6.3 percent higher than their female counterparts. The disparity was wider for bonuses, where men’s were 31 percent higher than women’s. The maximum bonus reported for a male general counsel was $3 million, while the highest female general counsel bonus was $675,000.

But the report cautions the disparity in bonuses may be due to the disproportionate sample size. For example, there were 42 female general counsel bonuses reported, about 25 percent of the data pool, compared to 126 male general counsel bonuses.

About 27 percent of general counsels in Fortune 500 companies are female. At the non-general counsel level, female in-house counsels made 8.2 percent less than their male counterparts in 2016, the report says.

That disparity may be attributed to female general counsels being more critical of their own work compared to their male counterparts, said Andrea Bricca, partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s in-house practice group.

“In other cases, we find that male GCs are more willing to work for companies with higher risks and higher rewards, such as technology startups,” she said. “These factors could account for a few reasons why we’re seeing a large disparity in bonus amounts between the genders.”

The report also found female general counsel compensation decreased about 5 percent between 2015 and 2016, while total compensation for other female in-house lawyers stayed roughly the same.

Furthermore, the report found the more highly regulated or specialized the industry, the higher the compensation for general counsels. General counsels working for companies in the public utility, transportation, finance and insurance industries had some of the highest increases in total compensation.

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