GC Compensation Report: Industry Breakdown

It's a good time to be a lawyer in show business. At least if salary has anything to do with it.

Lawyers in the entertainment industry were among the most highly represented in the 2017 General Counsel Compensation Report.

Alan Braverman, general counsel of The Walt Disney Co., was unseated by Altria Group's retiring general counsel Denise Keane as No. 1 on this year's list of highest-paid general counsel. But Braverman's paycheck wasn't anything to throw a pity party over.

He earned close to $7 million in total cash compensation and came in second on the list, which is compiled by ALM Intelligence and includes base salary, bonuses and nonequity compensation for fiscal year 2016. 

Braverman had held the top spot in the rankings for the past two years.

Other GCs in the entertainment industry saw some big rewards too. Four of the top 10 highest-paid general counsel were from that sector. In addition to Disney's Braverman, top lawyers at Time Warner Inc., CBS Corp. and Discovery Communications Inc. each individually earned north of $4 million in total cash. Eleven GCs from the top 100 were in the entertainment industry.

"I'm just always struck at how much lawyers in the entertainment industry are making," said Michael Roche-Kelly, director at Special Counsel's Parker + Lynch, noting that students in law school should consider looking into this area.

Other heavy hitters on this year's list included GCs in the "commercial banks" category. American Express' Laureen Seeger appeared in the Top 10, with almost $6.2 million in total cash compensation. Her paycheck in the banking industry was a bit of an outlier, as the next highest paid in the sector was Regions Financial's Fournier Gale, whose salary was almost $1.6 million, and Popular's Javier Ferrer, who took home just more than $1 million.

Pharmaceuticals GCs took home nice paychecks too. Jonathan Graham at Amgen received just over $3 million in total cash compensation, while Laura Schumacher at AbbVie made more than $2.6 million.

Aside from Altria Group's Keane, others working in the tobacco industry appeared on the list as well, although their pay wasn't quite as high as GCs in some of the other sectors. Marc Firestone at Philip Morris International took home nearly $2.6 million in total cash compensation, while Martin Holton made close to $1.9 million.

As for industries that are expected to be high-performing moving forward, Todd Sirras, managing director with executive compensation consulting firm Semler Brossy, said it is wise to look at the industries that are the most heavily regulated. Those GCs, he believes, will be tasked with more regulatory work in addition to their normal legal responsibilities. He said that health care lawyers and those within the financial services sector are among the most likely to find themselves involved in conversations about policymaking.

Companies, particularly those that face challenges stemming from the new administration, Sirras said, will be "paying GCs more to retain and motivate them or when those companies go to the outside to hire, they'll be bringing in the heavy hitters."

Contact Stephanie Forshee at sforshee@alm.com.

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Stephanie Forshee

Stephanie Forshee is a writer for Inside Counsel magazine. Previously, she has worked for the Puget Sound Business Journal, the San Fernando Valley Business Journal and Auto...

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