Stephanie Abramson has seen both sides now.

In 1995 she joined Young & Rubicam Inc. as executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary, after spending 19 years at Philadelphia’s Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

Abramson, 55, oversees 14 lawyers and manages all outside counsel working for offices in 70 countries worldwide. She helped take the global ad agency public in 1998, worked on the company’s first public debt offering in 1999, and is currently completing its $4.7 billion merger with London-based WPP Group. At press time it was uncertain what changes would be made within Young & Rubicam’s executive ranks as a result of the merger, expected to close by the end of the year. But no matter the outcome, Abramson says, she comes out ahead because the agency’s global atmosphere has helped her learn to think in a “less American-centric” way.

Steven Altman, Qualcomm Incorporated (83)

It was a very good year in the market for Steven Altman, executive vice president and general counsel of San Diego-based Qualcomm Incorporated, which pioneered the technology used in cell phones and other wireless equipment.

Altman cashed $13.4 million in his company stock options in 1999, placing him third on Corporate Counsel‘s list of legal executives who exercised options last year. He joined Qualcomm just over a decade ago after a three-year stint at San Diego-based Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, where he specialized in intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, securities, and general corporate matters. He was recommended to Qualcomm by his wife, Lisa, then a contract attorney there and now at home taking care of their three children.

Within a year of arriving at Qualcomm, Altman was named to the newly created post of general counsel. He’s been adding titles ever since. In addition to legal responsibilities, he now serves as senior vice president and general manager of the company’s Technology Transfer and Strategic Alliances Division, which focuses on joint ventures and new business development. The effort is nicely compensated. His salary and bonus added up to nearly $664,000 last year.

Altman says his legal staff includes about 20 business lawyers and 25 patent attorneys; a large part of the department’s work is filing patents and prosecuting patent infringement. Last year’s workload also included a $1 billion acquisition and the spinoff of a wireless division.

William Barr, GTE Corporation (now Verizon Communications) (27)

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