Which GC took home the most cash in 2010? For the first time, the winner was a woman.

Corporate Counsel just released its annual list of the highest-paid general counsel in the land. On the whole, the news is good: “If last year’s GC Compensation Survey showed the aftereffects… of the deepest trough of the recession, this year’s results show that chief legal officers made steady gains and recovered some momentum.”

This year there was at least one surprise: a winning woman. For the first time since the inception of the survey in 1994, the highest-paid general counsel on the list was a female attorney.

Who topped the list, and how much did she make? Let’s take a look….

Here’s what the magazine had to say about the top-ranked GC:

Denise Keane, the top legal officer since 2007 at tobacco giant Altria Group, Inc., took home $6.5 million in total cash compensation. In fact, women in general are continuing to make steady inroads in the pantheon of top earners. “We are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly,” says Dorian Denburg, president of the National Association of Women Lawyers and a general attorney with AT&T Inc. “What we need are more sponsors and champions so that as opportunities open, women can fill these seats.”

You can see the progress of women represented graphically as well. Fourteen women made the list for 2010.

In addition to Denise Keane, check out the other top earners, ranked by 2010 cash compensation (if you’re having trouble reading, click here for a larger version):

That’s just the top ten. Check out the top 100 over at Corporate Counsel.

Remember that the rankings are based on cash compensation. Some GCs did very well based on non-cash comp, as Corporate Counsel notes:

At the extreme upper end of the option awards spectrum, Liberty Media Corporation’s Charles Tanabe put the rest of the field to shame with a $16.5 million award. And Apple Inc.’s top lawyer, Bruce Sewell, received stock awards worth a whopping $28.4 million. He can thank the nearly 15 million people who bought iPads last year.

These gigantic sums drove the average option award up 39 percent in 2010—to $901,478—with 69 GCs receiving them. Seventy top lawyers were granted option awards the previous year. To put this in perspective, 87 of the top 100 GCs received options in our 2008 survey. The average outright stock award (as opposed to options) jumped 33 percent—to $1.6 million.

In addition, average base pay for the top 100 rose from $619,013 to $622,461, and average total cash bonuses rose by 29 percent in 2010, to $1,219,586.

Here are some random observations about a few of the GCs on the list:

#3 – Russell Deyo (Johnson & Johnson): Last year’s #1 lawyer fell to #3. But don’t shed tears for him; he still took home $4.7 million in cash compensation.

#6 – Paul Cappuccio (Time Warner): The colorful Cappuccio — a former Kirkland & Ellis partner, and a former law clerk to Justices Kennedy and Scalia — fell from #3 to #6. But he still earned more than $4.2 million in cash.

#8 – David Bernick (Philip Morris International): Another former K&E partner (we covered his high-profile departure), Bernick is new to the list. He debuted impressively at #8, with total cash earnings in excess of $3.6 million.

#11 – Carol Petren (Cigna): Carol Petren, Carol Petren…. Why is her name so familiar? Oh yeah, I remember now — I reviewed a bunch of her emails as part of a doc review, back when she was at Sears and I was at a law firm.

#34 – J. Michael Luttig (Boeing): The former Fourth Circuit judge earned almost $1.8 million in cash — about ten times what he made back when he was a federal judge. That should be enough to pay the mortgage on his fabulous vacation home on Kiawah Island.

For whatever reason, denizens of law-firm land tend to focus more on compensation than in-house lawyers. In the words of Mark Herrmann, our in-house columnist here at Above the Law, “I really don’t care much about compensation…. [I]f you love your job, you won’t be sitting around fretting about your pay.”

Still, even if they might not obsess over their comp as much as the Biglaw lawyers they boss around, it’s nice to know that in-house lawyers are making a good living too. Congratulations to Denise Keane and her worthy colleagues as top corporate counsel.

P.S. Note this methodological caveat, which we also noted last year: “[O]ur compensation survey is not exhaustive. Some well-paid top lawyers did not make our list simply because there were other executives who made more at their company; if the GC wasn’t among the top five, we don’t have his or her compensation data.”

The 2011 GC Compensation Survey: Analysis [Corporate Counsel]
The 2011 GC Compensation Survey: Rankings Table [Corporate Counsel]
The 2011 GC Compensation Survey: Methodology [Corporate Counsel]
Movin’ On Up: Graphic [Corporate Counsel]
Top-Earning GC Is a Woman Who Made $6.5M In Cash Compensation [ABA Journal]
General Counsel Raked in the Dough Last Year [WSJ Law Blog]

Earlier: The Highest-Paid General Counsel (Kind of)


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