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A review of compensation among chief legal officers in the Southeastern US reveals that average salary packages were in the neighborhood of approximately $965,000. With bonuses and stock awards adding most of the value, the average base salaries were just over $300,000 and the top 62 had packages valued at more than $1 million, with the highest being 7 million. Stock options remain the biggest wealth builder for in-house counsel.
Various other data were gleaned from 14A and 8K SEC filings for the fiscal year ending in 2007. While women earned less (an average base salary of $268,000 and a total package of $638,000), the top 6 women earned more than $1 million. In terms of compensation, most of the time GCs are on par with the chief financial officer and are usually included within the C-level executives. According to the founder of Hughes Consultants (legal recruiting firm based in Atlanta), CEOs and boards rely heavily on the general counsel to see that they are moving in the right direction from an ethical, moral, and legal view. Though these numbers seem astounding, many surveys indicate that the salaries of senior equity partners still come out ahead.
One major advantage of a GC position is that, during the declining economy, staff counsel positions remain more stable, especially since organizations are relying more on their in-house to perform functions they would usually send to outside counsel.
In addition, the reporting requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and legal documentation required for loans have made the role of GC even more valued during these economic conditions.
In recent years, the role of general counsel has seen a shift from being reactive to forces outside the organization to being proactive within the organization, according to an interview with Keith McDole, former Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Occidental Chemical Corporation. General Counsel must not only understand the nuances of the organization’s business, but also he or she must be proactive in providing guidance on a variety of business and ethical conduct issues, in addition to counseling senior management on legal matters. Given all of the expectations and responsibilities of the GC role, it’s apparent why the compensation for the position remains high.