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NEW YORK — Every spring, when corporations file their annual proxy statements, Recorder-affiliate Corporate Counsel magazine gets busy digging into those documents to find the best-paid law department heads at Fortune 500 companies. To land on the list of the 100 highest-compensated general counsel, top legal officers have to make their company’s cut, too. The GC has to be one of the five best-paid executives at his corporation in the past fiscal year. The Securities and Exchange Commission requires businesses to disclose salary, bonus and other perks for these five employees. This year, like last, just over one-third (179) of the Fortune 500 GCs were among their companies’ best-paid employees. (General counsel who were not among the top five highest-paid employees at their business are excluded from the list — regardless of how much they earned.) Once the names have been culled, they are ranked according to total cash compensation (salary plus bonus). The rankings also detail a GC’s equity information, including the value realized on options exercised, the amount of options granted the past year, and the value of options that were exercisable at fiscal year-end. Also added this year to the tables are restricted stock grants because of the growing use of this type of performance-based grant. In the decade Corporate Counsel has compiled compensation data, a few GCs have become regular fixtures. No. 1-ranked General Electric Co.’s Benjamin Heineman, Jr., has been somewhere at the top of our roster every year for the past 10. The survey has tracked his earnings from $1.3 million in cash compensation in 1993 to nearly $4 million this year — securing him the No 1 rank for two years running. And some chief legal officers at the top of the compensation list are returning after a few years off, including William Barr of Verizon Communications Inc. and Thomas Russo of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., who landed on in top ten this year with $1.5 million each in cash compensation. Other GCs, like Jeffrey Kindler, zoomed up the ranks after a year off the list. Kindler went from No. 43 in the 2001 survey (which covered FY 2000 earnings), when he was GC of McDonald’s Corp., to No. 12 this year, after joining Pfizer Inc. and increasing his cash compensation by half a million dollars, to $1.4 million. Some GCs debuted on our list this year. They include Joseph Konowiecki, who left his own law firm, Los Angeles-based K&R Law Group and became GC of PacifiCare Health Systems Inc. to the tune of $1.3 million in salary and bonus last year. And James Cicconi, who joined AT&T Corp. in 1998, makes his first appearance on the list this year with $1.4 million in cash compensation. SLIPPING OFF Another 15 GCs didn’t make enough in fiscal year 2001 to be included in the top 100 that year, but landed a spot on this year’s list. They include Julius Genachowski of USA Interactive, who moved up from rank 143 in last year’s survey to 23 this year. Like many others, he slipped off the list only for a year. That means there’s hope we might again see Cendant Corp.’s James Buckman, Smithfield Food Inc.’s Richard Poulson, and the Home Depot Inc.’s Frank Fernandez, all of whom were in the top 20 last year, but didn’t make the top-five cut at their companies this year. There are other reasons why GCs don’t make the list, including corporate bankruptcies and late proxy filings. But the No. 1 reason for not making the roster is departing from a Fortune 500 company. That’s the case for the Walt Disney Co.’s Louis Meisinger when it comes to next year’s list. The GC took his $1.3 million in 2002 and headed back to law firm life. So while other best-paid GCs may be spending some of their bonuses at Disney World, Meisinger is headed the other way. Rosemarie Clancy is research editor for Corporate Counsel magazine, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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