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Legal Chiefs' Total Compensation Up Four Percent From Last Year, Report Says

Rebekah Mintzer | Corporate Counsel - October 10, 2017


There are fewer topics that pique more interest in the workplace than—how much is the boss getting paid?  In-house lawyers curious about the paychecks that the top dogs in their legal departments bring home might find some answers in a new report released Tuesday.

According to the report from board intelligence solutions provider Equilar and boutique executive search firm BarkerGilmore, median total direct compensation for top legal officers  grew 4 percent overall in 2016.

The report analyzed publicly disclosed pay data from more than 1,100 public companies at a range of revenue levels. Total direct compensation was calculated as the sum of salary, bonus, nonequity incentive plan compensation, stock awards, options and most other forms of possible remuneration.

Robert Barker, managing partner for BarkerGilmore, said in a press release announcing the report’s publication that legal chiefs tend to get increased compensation as their overall roles continue to expand.

“Top legal officers continue to be tasked with broader responsibilities beyond the legal, compliance and governance functions, to include government relations, human resources, communications, and even business oversight, and as a result, compensation follows suit,” he said.

It might come as a surprise to some that top lawyers at companies that the report places on the lower end of the revenue spectrum—with $1 billion to $5 billion in revenue—fared especially well. Between 2015 and 2016, lawyers in this category saw a jump of 8.1 percent in total compensation. Median total compensation for these attorneys last year was $1.5 million.

The year-over-year increase for more middling companies (those with revenue from $5 billion to $15 billion) was somewhat less at 3.3 percent. The largest companies in the report, those with $15 billion or more in revenue, actually experienced a slight drop of 0.6 percent in legal leaders’ total compensation. But these top lawyers at the companies with the most revenue still got hefty paychecks, earning median total compensation of $3.8 million.

The report also broke down total compensation to examine its components, including stock awards. Increased equity awards are part of a bigger story for companies’ leading lawyers, according to John Gilmore, a managing partner at BarkerGilmore.

“The reflection of the newly found power of the GC is apparent in the transition of their title to chief legal officer, indicating they have taken a seat at the boardroom table to join other C-suite executives who are compensated with significant equity grants,” Gilmore said in the Tuesday press release.

Legal department leaders are doing well on the equity side, particularly at companies with higher revenue, according to the report.  In 2016, stock-based awards granted to companies with more than $15 billion in revenue came in at a median of $1.6 million in value.  This is almost twice the median value of the awards received by the legal leaders at companies the next revenue level down.

And for top lawyers who want a lot of their pay in stock-based awards, the technology sector is the place to be. Legal chiefs in tech received an average of 63 percent of their total compensation packages in stock awards. No other sector broke 50 percent in this category.