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Benchmarking General Counsel Compensation


General Counsel pay continues to rise at an accelerated rate, keeping pace with the increased expectations that the CEO and Board place upon them. It wasn’t long ago that a $1M compensation package seemed like a lot of money for a General Counsel, yet today’s total compensation can be more than ten times that. While General Counsel are often asked to take on additional responsibilities such as risk, government relations, public relations, human resources, and others, it’s the role they play as commercial strategists, builders of culture, and advisers of corporate governance that creates the most value and has the biggest impact on the business. Long gone are the days when the General Counsel sits in the boardroom as the armchair philosophizer of the executive leadership team. Today, the General Counsel is an ambassador to the business and must predict the unexpected. They have the pressure of contributing to short-term business objectives as well as ensuring that negative press stemming from litigation or regulatory matters doesn’t make headlines far into the future. 

Growth of General Counsel Compensation

That General Counsel compensation has recently grown at a faster pace than that of the CEO seems to be an attempt to bridge the gap between other corporate officers and also to acknowledge the GC’s seat at the table and their contributions as business-minded strategic advisors. Benchmarking General Counsel compensation is an arduous task due to numerous factors including individual performance metrics not visible from the outside. Many mistakenly make a compensation analysis based simply on the size of company, revenue, industry, or current compensation of other corporate officers. While those are important benchmarks, they’re not the end of the story. Consideration must be given to the overall leadership and department responsibilities, the strategic impact made to the business, corporate risk factors, and relationships with the CEO and Board, to name a few. Similarly, it is foolhardy to point a finger at one General Counsel and assume that another’s compensation should be equivalent.

When hiring a General Counsel from outside the company, compensation certainly plays a factor in who will be attracted to the role, especially if the CEO will only consider a sitting General Counsel.

“If the opportunity is properly presented to the candidate, including the culture, commitment to diversity, vision and capabilities of the leadership team, the impact that the new General Counsel can make, and the prospect for future growth, there are exceptionally qualified business-minded lawyers ready for the challenge. Our favorite prospects are those who tell us that they are happy and not actively seeking a change. These are typically the most attractive candidates because they have the right motivation. After thoroughly understanding the opportunity at hand, they become interested and engaged.”

John Gilmore — Managing Partner, BarkerGilmore

2019 General Counsel Pay Trends Report

BarkerGilmore, in conjunction with Equilar, just released the 2019 General Counsel Pay Trends Report. Please download a complimentary copy of the report here.

Topics: Legal   |   Compensation


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