Big bucks for lawyers in management
General counsels in a key management role with ASX100 companies can expect to earn more than $1.2 million a year – more than double that of the average general counsel salary.
Late yesterday (10 December), the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) and the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS) released the ASX100 General Counsel Report.
The survey of Australia's top 100 companies by market capitalisation, found that the average remuneration package for general counsels (GCs) classified as key management personnel was $1.22 million. This compares to an average fixed-salary (excluding bonuses) package of $494,000 for GCs not in a management position.
“I was very surprised by the range of remuneration at the top-end of the scale,” said the report’s editor, Alexandra Rose, who is the general counsel with the Benevolent Society, when speaking with Lawyers Weekly. “However, we saw a significant number of GCs receiving remuneration of less than $250,000, which does seem small in view of the responsibilities of being a GC in a listed company.”
The survey classified the key management personnel as being the five highest earners other than the CEO and/or managing director.
Thirty-five per cent of the GCs in the survey fell within this definition of the management personnel. Within this group, salaries ranged from just below $200,000 to almost $3.8 million.
Ten general counsels in this group received a total salary package in excess of $1.5 million.
For GCs in ASX100 companies not listed as being key management personnel, fixed salaries ranged from $128,000 to $950,000.
“I think in-house salaries have increased, and at the top levels they would be matching and out-ranking partners [at law firms],” said Rose. “For the five-to-10 year in-house lawyers, the comparable salaries of senior associates and junior partners are probably higher.”
General counsels featured in the survey included Lauren Kanter from News Corporation, David Cohen from the Commonwealth Bank, Bob Santamaria from ANZ, George Foster from Coca-Cola Amatil and David Williamson from BHP Billiton.
AMP general counsel Brian Salter contributed to the report. In a statement on its release, he said that “a general counsel is more than a manager of legal risk, they are the leader of the legal function and must seek new and better ways for the function to deliver value to the business.”
Rose agreed that Salter’s comments demonstrated the conflict general counsels attempt to balance with regard to fulfilling their legal and commercial roles.
“There is a conflict, but I wouldn’t use the term inherent conflict. It is all about managing the role,” said Rose. “I think the company secretary role – if you are juggling that as well – you are upping the [personal] risks and responsibilities by taking on both.”
Almost two thirds (64%) of the general counsels surveyed also performed company secretary duties.
The survey also found that 65 per cent of GCs in ASX100 companies use social media, one quarter of those surveyed had spent their entire legal career in-house, 32 per cent had reached partner level in private practice and 30 per cent of GCs were female.
“We were pleasantly surprised with that figure and I have raised it with Helen Conway at the EOWA and Elizabeth Broderick,” said Rose. Broderick, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner with the Australian Human Rights Commission, is also on the UTS Law Advisory Board.
“My personal view is that if you are operating as an individual and you are proving your position as a lawyer in a corporate space, it can be sometimes easier to demonstrate your value-add to the organisation as their lawyer rather than as one of many partners at a large law firm.”
Eight of the ASX100 companies featured in the survey, including Harvey Norman, had no general counsel or equivalent position.
In addition to her role at the Benevolent Society, Rose has held a number of senior positions with corporations and legal groups. She is currently the chair of the Corporate Lawyers Committee with the Law Society of NSW and was formerly the general counsel with QSuper and the head of legal with ANZ Wealth.