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New York's In-House Lawyers Get Big Paychecks

Phillip Bantz LAW.COM

When it comes to getting top pay as an in-house leader, New York is still the place to be, according to ALM’s 2019 General Counsel Compensation Survey.  

Three of the state’s highest-paid legal department chiefs ranked among the nation’s top 10 earners, the most prominent of whom is Morgan Stanley chief legal officer Eric Grossman—he once again is king of the cash hill.  

Corporate Counsel affiliate ALM Legal Intelligence compiled the pay chart based on Fortune 1000 companies’ Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Not every general counsel is named on a company’s proxy filing, which means not every lawyer in the Fortune 1000 is included on the list. The rankings are based on cash compensation, which includes salary, bonus and non-equity incentives, a post-Dodd-Frank Act form of performance-based pay.

While New York GCs are making bank, the state ranked third this year behind Texas and California for having the most in-house leaders included in the survey of 400 legal execs. New York had 32, while Texas had 48 and California had 54.

But a New Yorker still stands at the top of the heap. Grossman received a whopping $7,045,000 in bonus pay along with his $1 million salary, claiming $8,057,786 in total cash in 2018. That’s a nearly 16% pay bump from 2017, when he also held the top spot in New York and the country with $6,948,750 in cash comp, the bulk of which came from bonus pay.

The second-highest earner, CBS Corp. chief legal officer Lawrence Tu, who stepped down earlier this year, trailed Grossman with $4,850,000 in compensation, up from $4.5 million in 2017, when he was ranked fifth in New York and sixth in the nation. This year, he dropped to eighth in the nation. 

Michael Sharp, general counsel of Jefferies Financial Group, ranked third in the state and 10th in the country with $4.5 million, a slight dip from the $5 million he received a year earlier. 

Michael O’Brien, senior vice president and GC of business services firm Omnicom Group Inc., and Avroham Kess, CLO of The Travelers Companies Inc., rounded out the fourth and fifth spots on the New York list with $3.8 million and $3,475,000, respectively. 

As in prior years, in-house leaders in finance and media made up the bulk of the top earners list for New York and the nation. 

“We are predominated by a couple of industries in New York. We’ve got financial services, media and life sciences. And those tend to be high paying industries,” said Lee Udelsman, New York-based managing partner for legal recruiting services firm Major, Lindsey & Africa.

Nine of New York’s highest-paid in-house leaders in the latest survey were women—one more than in 2017. Two were in the top 10: Viacom general counsel Christa D’Alimonte and Sandra Leung, executive VP and GC of Bristol-Myers Squibb, ranked seventh and eighth on the list with $2,811,606 and $2,656,019, respectively.  

“As long as we’re making progress, that’s a good thing. Would I like it to be faster? Yes. And I think when you look at New York, those industries really need to focus on it [diversity] for it to make an impact and be more than one person at a time,” said Andrea Bricca, a partner at Major, Lindsey & Africa who has recruited in-house leaders for New York firms. 

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