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General counsel at pharma firms enjoy wage hike

Posted by: Laurence Simons 05/07/13

In-house lawyers are traditionally considered the poor relations of top private practice lawyers, although this stereotype is not necessarily based in reality; for instance, reports have shown that the benefits and bonuses offered to general counsel are far superior to those offered to their counterparts at law firms.

However, it is fair to point out that many people turn to internal roles because of the greater flexibility and better life-work balance they offer, rather than for the compensation levels available.

On the other hand, how much money do you really need? According to a survey from GC Metrics reported by the Triangle Business Journal, US general counsel at medical device and pharmaceutical companies are among the best paid in their profession, with the former bringing home an average of $423,000 (£282,700) annually.

Not peanuts, I'm sure you'll agree, and certainly sufficient to keep a reasonably sensible lawyer in leather shoes and yachts.

However, those two industries are known for their high levels of pay compared to other sectors, potentially because the levels of risk and regulation in-house lawyers need to deal with are higher than they are elsewhere. Energy and mining companies, although not included in this survey, also tend to offer bigger wages.

GC Metrics president Rees Morrison argued that general counsel are being paid more in the current economic climate as businesses re-invest the savings they have made from not working with over-priced external advisers.

According to the 2012 General Counsel compensation survey from Law magazine, American mass media corporation CBS has the highest-paid in-house lawyer, closely followed by other big names like Johnson & Johnson, Philip Morris and Walt Disney.

While ordinary punters will struggle to aspire to the compensation levels offered to those at the top tier of these kind of companies, they can still be reassured by the fact that the in-house role is becoming more prestigious and important across the board.

With external advice often over-priced and regulatory landscapes ever-more complex, general counsel are crucial to how businesses are moving forward.