General Counsel Salary Is At A 1:3 Ratio To Their CEOs. Not Bad Work If You Can Get It!

Equilar just released its in-house counsel pay report and, well, remember kids: if you want to make real money, go into business not law. The report says that at companies with revenue between $1 billion and $15 billion, the CEO earned about 3.7 times what the GC makes.

At companies with revenue under $1 billion, the CEOs outstripped GCs by a ratio of around 3:1.

But don’t go crying for in-house counsel just yet. Median GC salary at the largest companies was $650,000, while the smaller companies Equilar tracked still posted at $325,000 median salary for general counsels. Which is pretty decent scratch, all things considered.

There’s another disparity between general counsels at the small companies (to the extent banking just under a billion dollars makes your company “small”) versus the large ones:

Salary was the largest pay component at the median for companies below $1 billion in revenue, while stock was the largest median pay component for larger companies… Stock grants increased most substantially with ascending revenue compared to other pay components in terms of total value—GCs at companies over $15 billion in revenue were awarded more than seven times the amount in stock value compared to companies with revenue less than $1 billion.

Ethically, this puts GCs at wealthy companies in a bit of a bind. If your compensation is so directly tied to the stock price, you’ve got a perverse incentive to not disclose information if at all possible. Lawyers, especially in-house lawyers, are in the business of telling truth to power, and having your compensation directly tied to the stock price doesn’t help that cause.

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You want your GCs to be in the position to say “look, you’re going to pay me whether you take my advice or not.” But, maybe that’s what the big boys rely on outside counsel for.

Equilar also reports that tech companies are most likely to pay their in-house counsel in stock. Being a lawyer for a tech start-up is not unlike being a security guard at a strip club: you’re just there to make sure nobody needs to call the cops. So paying those lawyers in “funny money” seems entirely appropriate.

What this report really needs is to overlay these salary numbers with hours analysis. People don’t leave Biglaw to go in-house for the money. They go because of the money AND the expectation their children might someday actually meet them.


Elie Mystal is an editor of Above the Law and the Legal Editor for More Perfect. He can be reached @ElieNYC on Twitter, or at elie@abovethelaw.com. He will resist.

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