Credit: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com Credit: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com

Increasing compensation among chief legal officers at publicly held companies in New Jersey has become a five-year trend, though those positions still tend to be occupied by men, the Law Journal’s annual survey of general counsel compensation has found.

According to data on fiscal 2017 culled from federal securities filings, average salary among 20 general counsel for publicly held companies based in the state was $448,945.

That’s a 7.6 percent increase from the prior fiscal year’s $417,281 average salary. It’s also the fifth straight year of increase in average salary since it dipped to $374,287 in fiscal 2012, from roughly $400,000 the year before.

Thus, the growth rate in average salary is about 20 percent over that five-year period.

The comparison is not a perfect one. Different general counsel make the list, or are left off of it, for various reasons. For example, any chief legal officer not among the five best-paid executives at his or her corporation need not be listed in the proxy statement to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Or a general counsel might leave. The Law Journal’s list this year does include some turnover, though this year’s and last year’s installments each include 20 entries.

Like average salary, median salary increased, too: to $422,250 from $395,993, a 6.6 percent change.

Numbers are more stagnant in terms of gender diversity. On this year’s list, five of the 20 GCs are women (25 percent), down from six on the prior list (30 percent). In the Law Journal’s 2016 list, six of 26 GCs included (23 percent) were women.

Those numbers, though not representative of the female population in the legal profession, appear to be on par with national metrics among general counsel. For example, sibling publication Corporate Counsel, citing data compiled by Russell Reynolds Associates, reported earlier this year that the proportion of women GCs at Fortune 500 companies has climbed to 28 percent from 26 percent.

Past Law Journal surveys have found that turnover tends to be somewhat limited in the top in-house jobs in the state, yet there was some turnover among female GCs on this year’s list. Joining the list this year is Ellen S. Rosenberg of biotechnology company Amicus Therapeutics Inc. of Cranbury. Rosenberg, ranked No. 10 with $699,329 in total cash compensation, joined Amicus in February 2016. She previously had been senior vice president and associate general counsel at Shire Pharmaceuticals, and associate general counsel for a division of EMD Serono Inc.

Two female GCs, meanwhile, dropped off the list. Mariellen Dugan of public utility New Jersey Resources Corp. in Wall (No. 11 on last year’s list with $615,022 in total cash compensation) left the company in August 2017, according to the proxy statement. Gina Merritt-Epps of South Jersey Industries in Folsom, another public utility, was not listed in the company’s most recent proxy statement. She was No. 13 on last year’s list, with $596,425 in total cash compensation.

Diversity “is first and foremost in many employers’ minds,” according to David Garber of Princeton Legal Search, whose firm handles in-house counsel placements. “That is something we see with increasing frequency.”

Kelly Slavitt

For example, “there have been big efforts made” through the “D.A.R.E.” program at British consumer products company Reckitt Benckiser, according to Kelly Slavitt, the Parsippany-based vice president and area general counsel of the RB North American Hygiene and Home unit. (The acronym stands for “developing, attracting, retaining and engaging” women, she said.)

“It’s a matter of getting the right women in the right positions,” said Slavitt, who has been with RB for eight years. “It’s not about hitting some quota.”

She added, “I don’t want to be thought of as a token, that I got the role just because I’m a woman.”

Slavitt, who has a leadership role in the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Law Department Management Committee, said law department leaders could improve diversity by training a female successor.

“I’d like to think it’s just raising awareness,” she said.

Garber added that there does appear to be a movement to push for female lawyers into legal leadership positions.

“I do think it’s happening,” he said. “I do think that change is underway. … We have a number of clients with female general counsel.

“I think that time is now,” Garber said, “and I think the numbers will continue to get better.”

It’s clear that, in terms of compensation, at least, the numbers have indeed continued to get better. To go along with a healthy average and median salary jumps is a 1.5 percent increase in median bonus, to $301,165 from $296,719.

That figure includes both discretionary bonuses and nonequity incentive compensation, which is tied to company performance. The former form of bonus is somewhat rare now: Only 5 of the 20 listed GCs got a discretionary bonus in fiscal 2017. And only one GC, Joshua Horenstein of Innophos Holdings, a Cranbury-based manufacturer of specialty food ingredients, got both.

The list is ordered by total cash compensation: salary plus bonuses of any type. At No. 1 on this year’s list is Michael J. Holston, whose $1.7 million in total cash was made up of a $811,538 salary and nonequity incentive compensation of $885,638. Each of those figures is highest in its respective category among the group of 20. Holston joined Kenilworth-based pharmaceutical corporation Merck & Co. in 2012 and ascended to GC thereafter, but left the company early this year to serve as GC of General Electric.

Michael H. Lanza of Selective Insurance Group Inc., based in Branchville, is second on the list, with $1.14 million in total cash: a $540,000 salary and $600,000 in nonequity incentive compensation. Lanza didn’t appear on last year’s list.

The No. 3 spot is occupied by David. R. Hill of NRG Energy, an energy company with dual headquarters in Princeton and Houston. His $1.14 million in total cash is made up of $519,231 in salary and $616,200 in nonequity incentive compensation. Hill occupied the same spot last year, and with nearly identical total cash ($1.13 million).

Last year’s list-topper, Adam Ciongoli of Camden-based Campbell Soup Co., is this year’s No. 4. His $1.08 million in total cash compensation is made up of $711,667 in salary and $371,280 in nonequity incentive compensation. Last year he had a total cash figure of $1.97 million, including a $600,000 discretionary bonus, in addition to a $700,000 salary and $672,000 in nonequity incentive compensation.

The highest-ranked woman on this year’s list is Tamara L. Linde of Newark-based public utility Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. Her $1.01 million in total cash compensation ($560,769 salary and $444,400 nonequity incentive compensation) places her at No. 6. It’s a significant bump for Linde, who climbed one spot after improving on her total cash figure of $864,189 for fiscal 2016. Linde is the last of six GCs to crack the $1 million-mark in total cash.

Other women are spread out through the list.

Following Amicus Therapeutics’ Rosenberg (No. 10) is Kristen Williams of Pacira Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Parsippany at No. 13. Williams earned $588,380 in total cash, made up of $432,500 in salary and a discretionary bonus of $155,880. She ranked No. 16 on last year’s list, with $551,708 in total cash.

One slot below Williams, at No. 14, is Samantha Hanley of East Rutherford-based pharmaceutical company Cambrex Corp., with $571,724 in total cash ($325,500 salary plus $246,224 nonequity incentive compensation). She was listed at No. 15 on last year’s list, with $558,000 in total cash.

The final woman listed is Allison Nagelberg of Monmouth Real Estate Investment Corp., a real estate investment trust based in Freehold. Her $417,500 in total cash ($354,375 in salary plus a discretionary bonus of $63,125) places her at No. 19.

As usual, total cash doesn’t tell the whole story. The biggest paydays, categorized as “total take-home” compensation, includes those who realized value on their stock and options holdings.

Kenneth E. Thompson of Verisk Analytics Inc., a data analytics company based in Jersey City. led in this category. In addition to his $465,800 in salary and $448,000 in nonequity incentive compensation, he realized an additional $10.85 million in value on option exercises and stock vesting, for a total take-home figure of $11.76 million.

Other multimillion-dollar paydays were enjoyed by Ciongoli ($6.04 million total take-home pay), Holston ($3.81 million) and Lanza ($2.24 million).