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 — even during a pandemic. 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 cash seems to grow on trees in this mythical, magical fairy-tale land where money and prestige converge.
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? Let’s take a look at Corporate Counsel’s latest survey of the nation’s best-paid general counsel, a ranking that pulls together all the money that GCs make in total cash compensation, which is a combination of base salary, cash bonus, and nonequity incentives.
Here’s how general counsel compensation has changed since last year’s survey:
Salaries for legal execs have remained pretty stagnant over the last several years. The median salary for a general counsel in 2018 was $498,677. Last year, the median salary was $504,434. Only a 1.2% increase. In 2017, the median salary was $500,000.
The median total cash compensation dropped 3.7%, from $988,237 to $951,688. But bonuses were a different story. The median bonus for general counsel jumped from $250,000 in 2018 to $345,302 last year, an increase of about 38%
What hasn’t remained stagnant is the difference between men’s and women’s salaries on the GC front. The in-house gender pay gap is finally beginning to close.
The average male general counsel’s total cash compensation in 2019 was $1,216,118, while female legal executives averaged $1,136,486, a difference of about 6.7%. In 2018, the average cash compensation gap was nearly 16%, with men earning $1,277,971 while women received $1,088,788.
Meanwhile, the median bonus pay for female general counsel was 1.6% higher than males last year. And the median stock awards for women legal executives were 1.9% higher than the median awards for men.
But what about the coronavirus crisis? That surely must have affected GC pay this year, what with the global recession that it’s caused.
[A] growing number of in-house leaders, along with other executives, have already taken salary reductions this year as part of cost-cutting measures, including furloughs and layoffs, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For instance, Dinh, Fox’s top lawyer, announced in April that he was giving up his entire salary through September. Meanwhile, over at Disney, Braverman’s salary was reduced by 30% this year.
Of course, both Dinh and Braverman, like virtually all legal executives, make the bulk of their money through stock awards, incentive compensation and bonuses.
It’ll be interesting to see what next year’s GC compensation report looks like, but for now, let’s focus on the good news. Here are the top 10 highest-paid GCs in the country. All the GCs present here had total cash compensation of more than $4 million:
Top Paid General Counsels Rank Name Company Compensation 1 Alan Braverman Walt Disney $8,000,016 2 Eric Grossman Morgan Stanley $6,938,750 3 Viet Dinh Fox $6,000,000 4 Bruce Campbell Discovery Communications $5,905,380 5 Thomas Moriarty CVS Health $5,671,833 6 C. Allen Parker Wells Fargo $4,569,246 7 L.E. Seeger American Express $4,525,000 8 Karen Seymour CBS $4,500,000 9 Bradford Smith Microsoft $4,216,148 10 Michael O’Brien Omnicrom Group $4,100,000