GE counsel tops US pay league with $5.04m package

General Electric’s legal chief Benjamin Heineman remains the highest-paid general counsel in the US, scooping a mammoth $5.4m (£2.7m) in total cash compensation last year.

Heineman narrowly beat Lehman Brothers Holdings’ executive vice-president and chief legal officer Thomas Russo, who earned an equally impressive $5m (£2.68m) in salary and bonuses.

However, if stock-related transactions such as exercised options are taken into account Russo’s take-home pay jumps to $21.22m (£11.37m), the highest in the country. Russo, a former partner at Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, cashed in $16.22m (£8.69m) of stock options last year. This compares with $6.6m (£3.54m) in stock options cashed in by Heineman in 2005, bringing his total take-home pay to $11.65m (£6.24m).

According to the survey conducted by Corporate Counsel, three other US in-house counsel took home more than $10m (£5.36m) last year.

UnitedHealth Group general counsel David Lubben pocketed $13.07m (£7m), Cendant Corporation general counsel James Buckman took home $11.6m (£6.22m) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation executive vice-president Jeffrey Moreland earned $11.53m (£6.18m).

American Express executive vice-president and general counsel Louise Parent took home $1.6m (£860,000) in salary and bonuses and $4.53m (£2.43m) in stock realisation – more than any other woman on the list.

The average bonus across the top 100 highest-paid US general counsel was $906,820 (£485,860) in 2005, while the average restricted stock grant was nearly $1m (£536,000).