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Who Are America’s Best-Paid General Counsel?

Staci Zaretsky abovethelaw.com

Day in and day out, associates slavishly bill their hours at Biglaw firms across the country, wondering if perhaps someday, they’ll be able to move in-house, where the grass must surely be greener. After all, a life without billable hours is, dare we say, actually a life.

As it turns out, the grass there is actually greener for many in-house attorneys, as money seems to grow on trees in this mythical, magical fairy-tale land.

While a great number of people believe that in-house lawyers earn less than their Biglaw counterparts, top in-house attorneys — the general counsel of America’s largest companies — often earn sums that exceed Biglaw partner pay.

How much more are general counsel earning than Biglaw partners? Take a look at Corporate Counsel’s new rankings of the nation’s best-paid general counsel.

Pay packages are growing for some of the best compensated legal department leaders in the land, according to Corporate Counsel’s 2017 General Counsel Compensation Survey. It’s a sign that as GCs grow in strategic importance to their companies, remuneration can grow as well. …

Measured by most metrics, general counsel in the report overall seem to have done well in 2016. [Tobacco giant Altria Group Inc.’s Denise] Keane serves as a prime example. When she appeared as the list’s highest-paid GC in 2011, she had received $6.5 million in cash pay. In 2016, she made about $2.5 million more, a significant boost.

This represents a broader trend, says [Lee] Udelsman, [managing partner of the in-house practice at legal recruiting consultancy Major, Lindsey & Africa]. “The GC role is being embraced as part of the leadership team and their sphere of influence has really expanded,” he says. “Compensation reflects that and has continued to rise over the past five, six, seven years.”


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