US counsel pay outstrips UK counterparts’

While McArthur may have landed a pay rise, Miller will probably have accepted a drop from her City pay packet. But both salaries will be dwarfed by those available to the highest-earning general counsel in the US.

According to a survey conducted by Corporate Counsel, General Electric’s legal chief Benjamin Heineman scooped a $1.4m (£800,000) basic salary and a whopping $3.44m (£1.97m) bonus in his retirement year (he retired in December 2005). In addition he realised $6.6m (£3.77m) of stock, adding up to a total package of $11.44m (£6.54m).

But Heineman’s hearty retirement haul was bettered by Thomas Russo, the general counsel of Lehman Brothers. Russo took home a meagre $450,000 (£254,140) annual salary but had the highest bonus in the top 100 general counsel – a whopping $4.55m (£2.6m). In addition, Russo also cashed in $16.2m (£9.26m) in stock to make up a $21.2m (£12.11m) total cash-plus-stock package.

In the US public companies have to disclose the pay packages of their chief executive officers and the next four highest-earning executives, which will often include the general counsel. In 2005 there were 196 general counsel in Fortune 500 companies that were among the top five earners, four more than in 2004.

The Lawyer’s research of the UK’s FTSE100 companies revealed a much lower level of transparency among the in-house legal fraternity. Only four companies in the FTSE100 revealed the salaries of their most senior lawyers.

FTSE100 companies are only required to reveal salary details of board members. Due to many companies’ corporate governance procedures, general counsel are normally excluded from the board.

The general counsel at BAE Systems Michael Lester scooped £1.1m in 2005, and David Lillycrop, the general counsel at rival aerospace company Smiths, reaped a total package of £799,000. They are the only chief legal officers to hold board positions in the FTSE100.