Corporations tell us. Public companies must disclose the compensation packages for their CEOs and their four other highest-paid executives in the annual proxy statements they file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
We comb through the Fortune 500 companies' proxies in order to compile our list. At many of these businesses, general counsel are among the executives whose pay packages must be disclosed.
We looked at all of these GCs' pay packages. Then we ranked the 100 best-paid according to cash compensation, which includes salary, bonus, and non-equity incentive compensation-a column added four years ago on the proxy statement in which companies record bonuses for hitting performance targets.
For our chart and rankings, we've combined both types of bonuses in one column labeled "Bonus/Non-equity Incentive Compensation." We also note stock grants, option grants, and cash-outs for the top 100.
Cash-outs include stock value realized as well as options exercised in our "Stock" column in an effort to paint a more complete picture of equity compensation.
But while we do our best to find out what GCs make, it's important to note that our 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.
We miss other chief legal officers because of timing. If their company filed its proxy statement after May 31, we couldn't report it because of our publishing deadline. Plus, businesses that are in bankruptcy or have merged may not file proxies. And Fortune 500 corporations that are not publicly traded don't file proxy statements with the SEC.