A new compensation report by Equilar and BarkerGilmore offers benchmarking data for in-house counsel looking to see how their annual salaries stack up against their peers.
As the role of the top legal officer at public companies continues to evolve—from watchdog to pivotal corporate decision-maker—general counsel compensation has steadily increased over the last five years, according to the 2019 General Counsel Compensation Report. “The report brings to light the expanding role of the general counsel and the increased compensation associated with their seat at the table,” said BarkerGilmore Managing Partner John Gilmore.
Since 2014, general counsel compensation has increased by 7.4 percent, reaching $2.6 million in 2018, according to the report. The report examined the 500 largest U.S.-headquartered companies (by reported revenue) that trade on one of the three major U.S. stock exchanges (Nasdaq, NYSE, or NYSE American).
Median reported total pay among Equilar 500 general counsel was $2.6 million, a 3.7 percent increase from the previous year. This subtle, but steady, rise in compensation varied by sector, with the largest year-over-year percentage increase occurring in the financial sector, rising nearly 36 percent from 2017 to 2018. On the flip side, the basic materials sector experienced the largest decrease in pay year-over-year, falling nearly 17 percent from 2017 to 2018.
Overall, general counsel in the healthcare sector, including life sciences, received the highest median total compensation at just over $4 million. Consumer goods replaced utilities as the sector with the lowest general counsel pay in 2018.
The report also found performance incentives accounted for the largest component of general counsel compensation in value, as well as prevalence, in 2018—more than twice that of stock awards. Across the five-year period, performance incentives have also been the fastest growing element of pay.
Options constituted the smallest portion of general counsel pay across all sectors except healthcare in 2018. The highest prevalence of stock awards was in the consumer goods sector, accounting for 26.4 percent of all pay. Meanwhile, performance incentives accounted for more than a third of pay in each of the financial, healthcare, and technology sectors.
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Study: General counsel pay at five-year high