Inside Counsel: In-house lawyers increasingly valuable to their companies

Originally Published in Inside Counsel | November 5, 2012 | By Julie Beck

Our readers already know that in-house is the place to be. The Wall Street Journal takes a look at why.

More and more general counsel are becoming one of the top-paid employees at their companies, largely because the legal and regulatory risks that businesses face these days make lawyers invaluable.

Compensation researcher Equilar Inc. released a report Monday that revealed the GCs who work closely with management are the ones raking in the most cash. For a GC who reports directly to the CEO, the median pay is $1.55 million, whereas for a GC who sits a little lower on the corporate ladder, the median pay is $760,000.

What’s more, the value of a general counsel to a company is increasing, and fast. In 2011, GCs’ pay increased at a rate of 12.8 percent, while CEOs’ pay grew at 6.2 percent and CFOs’ pay grew at 8.9 percent.

But for those in-house counsel, or aspiring in-house counsel who aren’t quite at the GC level yet, there’s another area of growth to keep an eye on: compliance. “The growth and the job security is, for better or worse, in compliance,” Cameron Findlay, GC of Medtronic Inc. told the Wall Street Journal.

Consero Group LLC polled 48 executives at a compliance forum held last week in Florida, and found that almost half of them said they had added compliance staff in 2011.

Wal-Mart is a great example of one such company that is pouring resources into compliance. After accusations that the company covered up bribery in Mexico, it spent $30 million to review its worldwide compliance program, and recently hired an internal compliance chief.