General counsel gaining prominence, earning more

by Steve Randall05 Dec 2017
General counsel gaining prominence, earning more
The role of general counsel is becoming increasingly important for corporates and that means greater financial rewards.

A survey of GCs in the US by global legal recruiter Major, Lindsey & Africa found that between 2015 and 2016 general counsel compensation increased by 9.6%.

The gains were not salary, which only increased 1.3%, but bonuses which rose 38% over the year.

“These increases in compensation point directly to the GC’s growing sphere of influence, reaching beyond legal functions into other matters of business,” said Mike Sachs, Partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s In-House Practice Group. “Rather than simply overseeing the legal department, GCs have become an integral partner to the C-Suite. As a result, their compensation is reflecting their new roles as strategic decision makers and trusted advisors to the CEO.”

Average GC compensation ranged from U$403,000 to $520,000 (AU$530-684K) depending on location with the Northeast including New York and Boston paying the most.

The study also reveals the gender pay gap with male GCs earning 6.3% more as a base salary and 31% more in bonuses than their female counterparts. The number of women surveyed was 42 compared to 126 men, which skews the data to some degree.

“In some cases, female GCs may assess themselves more critically than their male counterparts assess themselves, and thus rank their performance lower on various metrics that determine their bonus,” said Andrea Bricca, Partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s In-House Practice Group. “In other cases, we find that male GCs are more willing to work for companies with higher risks and higher rewards, such as technology startups. These factors could account for a few reasons why we’re seeing a large disparity in bonus amounts between the genders.”

New PNG partner for Allens
The Papua New Guinea practice of Allens has a new partner following the promotion of Sarah Kuman.

She makes partner after 15 years with the firm having started in the Port Moresby office as a clerk in 2002. She is a commercial lawyer specialising in resources, energy and infrastructure.

'We are delighted to be welcoming Sarah as a partner of our Papua New Guinea practice. Sarah is an outstanding practitioner who combines her technical expertise with great client relationships and a passion for the progression of women in Papua New Guinea,' said Managing Partner, Richard Spurio.

Kuman was involved in the establishment of the Papua New Guinea Women Lawyers Association.

Canadian regulator says no to capping contingency fees
The issue of contingency fees remains a hot topic not just in Australia but in other jurisdictions as litigation funding becomes more common.

The Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates legal professionals in Ontario, has been considering how the fees should be regulated but has ruled out a cap.

Contingency fees have been allowed in Ontario since 2002 and the Society believes that they are in the public interest but also acknowledges that there must be consumer protections.

"The existence of contingency fees is critical in opening the doors to justice for all Ontarians, no matter your financial situation," says Malcolm Mercer, Chair of the Law Society's Advertising and Fee Arrangements Issues Working Group. "The recommendations transform the way contingency fees work, providing equal access to justice for all individuals, regardless of their ability to pay, while increasing clarity and visibility, and consumer protection."

The recommendations being considered are:
  • The introduction of a mandatory standard contingency fee agreement;
  • A 'Know Your Rights' guide for the public;
  • Disclosure requirements on completion of an agreement;
  • Requirement for legal professionals to publically disclose the maximum contingency fee percentage they charge by practice area; and
  • New reporting information required on licensees' (lawyers and paralegals) annual reports to the Law Society.
The Society says that a cap on fees is not in the public interest as it would restrict access to legal services.

“When looking at the issue of caps, we were concerned that the unintended consequence would deny some victims benefits and reduce claims in more modest cases," says Mercer.

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