One industry that didn’t suffer amid the COVID-19 pandemic was technology, and looking at general counsel compensation, that shows through.

In-house leaders at big tech companies in 2020 accounted for 19 of the top 50 GCs by total compensation in Corporate Counsel’s 2021 General Counsel Compensation Report.

GCs at Alphabet ($50.2 million), Apple ($21.7 million) and Amazon ($17 million) topped the list, with Google’s holding company giving away over twice as much as the iPhone developer. Other big winners were Playtika GC Michael Cohen ($11.2 million) and Zoom Interim Chief Legal Officer Aparna Bawa ($10.2 million).

(See table below for more details.)

Stock awards were the difference-maker for these legal leaders. Based on 2020 Securities and Exchange Commission filings, the survey found that of the top 10 stock award givers, eight were companies within the tech sector.

Duane Morris partner John Nixon, who advises executive teams on employee benefits and executive compensation, said it’s not surprising tech companies lead in stock awards.

“In the tech space, the culture is that equity is the play because it represents the higher upside,” Nixon said. “It’s also a function of more sensitive desires to have compensation square with the enterprise performance.”

Tech companies generally want to tie C-suite compensation to company success, Nixon said, and equity is one way of doing that. In-house counsel are increasingly likely to reap the rewards simply because tech companies are more likely to see them as valuable members of the leadership team itself, rather than place them in an advisory role.

As lawyers fight for seats at the executive table, Nixon said, this trend will expand to other industries. Still, tech companies are unique because they prefer to stake compensation toward equity at higher proportions than, for example, financial services.

Although they made lots in stock awards, legal leaders at tech companies made just over $1 million on average in total cash compensation, far below in-house counsel in other industries like finance ($2.1 million) and entertainment ($3 million).

Data also suggests there’s more at work than just low pay in determining low cash averages. While 33 finance and insurance companies ranked in ALM’s survey this year, along with 14 entertainment companies, a whopping 58 companies in the tech sector were represented in the findings.

That could explain why despite the low average, tech companies overall paid $60.2 million, making technology the second most compensated industry overall. Only finance shelled out more money for legal guidance, devoting $67.4 million overall.


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