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General Counsel Pay Trends

Featuring commentary from


General Counsel Pay Trends, an Equilar publication, analyzes the compensation of General Counsels (GCs) disclosed in the SEC filings by Equilar 500 companies for the fiscal years of 2016 and 2017. The Equilar 500 is comprised of the 500 largest, by reported revenue, U.S.-headquartered companies that trade on one of the three major U.S. stock exchanges (Nasdaq, NYSE or NYSE American), with adjustments to compare to the sector mix of similar large-cap indices. The report highlights trends in the compensation of GCs and how companies decide to compensate the position. BarkerGilmore offered independent commentary to provide color on the shift in the role of the General Counsel in the last decade and how succession planning for top legal talent is critical in today’s corporate landscape.

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Key Findings:

  • The median total compensation of Equilar 500 General Counsels at companies with revenue greater than $20 billion was $4.5 million, almost $2 million more than the median GC pay at companies with revenue between $10 and $20 billion.
  • Chief executive officers at companies with a revenue between $10 and $20 billion made 4.6 times the total compensation of the median General Counsel, the highest in the study.
  • On average, more than a third of General Counsel compensation at large companies with over $20 billion in revenue was comprised of performance incentives. Comparatively, the smallest companies in the study—those with less than $5 billion in annual revenue—had performance incentives make up less than a quarter of average GC pay.
  • Long-term incentive compensation most often took the form of performance stock, with an average usage of 81.7% of companies across all revenue ranges granting such awards.
  • More than twice as many Equilar 500 companies used relative total shareholder return (TSR) as a metric in long-term incentive plan (LTIP) grants to General Counsels than return on capital/return on invested capital/return on equity (ROC/ROIC/ROE), the second-most commonly used metric.