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Determine Your Financial Value As A General Counsel

"How is the market?" is a question asked frequently of legal search consultants. However, it usually holds an underlying sometimes spoken of, sometimes not, inquiry that really means, "Am I being paid accordingly for the market?"

While you may not sit around the dinner table with friends discussing your current pay structure, chances are you have had such discussions with a recruiter, trusted peer or mentor. Combine those conversations with the ever increasing transparency into executive compensation in this age of information and a significant amount of data is available to everyone. However, most of that info is available only for public companies, and as new laws are being enacted that do not allow employers to ask potential candidates about current and past compensation, some of gained transparencies will begin to disappear.

Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA) knows in-house lawyers don't have infinite time to review that data for a better idea of what you deserve to be paid, and we have created an event series to assist. MLA and Skadden will be hosting two upcoming events—Thursday, November 9, in San Francisco and Wednesday, November 29, in Los Angeles —with the help of Towers Watson, that will feature a candid discussion of GC compensation trends at the 1,000 largest public companies. Topics will include:

  • The volatility of GC compensation compared to other executive compensation
  • Variable factors, such as long-term and annual incentives, that affect the compensation trends
  • Specific factors like regulation, restructuring, intellectual capital and M&A that impact GC compensation
  • The role of company size in the pay package

Busy general counsel are rarely able to find the time to access all the disparate resources available to them to keep themselves informed about the market trends impacting their compensation. What does this mean for lawyers evaluating their current compensation level or looking at a new position?

  • First and foremost do your homework. I recently had a GC candidate quote the pay of GCs at comparable companies and the pay and bonuses of those with whom she would sit on the executive team. It was difficult for HR to argue with the numbers when it came to finalizing the compensation for the new role.

  • Keep up with GC compensation trends. Stay connected via events where open discussion is available and you can connect with other GC. Continue to read the legal and executive trade media to ensure you’re in the loop. You don’t want to be scrambling to do all of your homework at the crucial hour when you are negotiating.

  • Know what YOU value. Cash compensation is important, but you also need to truly understand what you value and what that is worth to those around you. Maybe you like the thrill of a potential huge financial upside in a riskier company, and thus the annual compensation is not as important as the long-term value. Maybe you want flexibility of schedule and need to factor that into your equation. Or maybe you want the bulk of your compensation up front, in order to plan for an early retirement.

  • Know YOUR own worth. Ultimately your compensation package is individual to you. No one has your exact resume, your same experiences or your precise needs and individual goals. While there is a lot of data available, take the time to decide how it squares with what you have to offer.

Despite the intent of new laws about compensation history, compensation discussions will never disappear. It’s imperative to know where the resources are that will keep you up-to-date and knowledgeable. These types of seminars give in-house counsel the opportunity to receive a great deal of detailed information in a short amount of time and also spend some time catching up and networking with their peers.  Because, when someone asks us, "What should I be being paid?" the most honest answer really is, "It depends." Further discussion is always necessary, and MLA is happy to guide you and serve as a conduit of information and discussion.


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