General counsel at major corporations saw their base salaries climb, even as cash bonus awards fell in the last year, according to the latest compensation benchmarking figures from the Association of Corporate Counsel.

The in-house trade organization, together with the consultancy Empsight International, surveyed the top lawyers at 190 companies with average revenues of $31.7 billion in its 2012 Large Law Department Compensation Survey. Survey participants included companies such as Nike Inc., The Coca-Cola Company, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, and Time Warner Inc. 

GCs saw their base salaries rise 1.9 percent—from $557,112 in 2011 to $567,924 in 2012, according to ACC.

Annual cash bonuses, however, dipped 7.9 percent on average—from $590,040 in 2011 to $543,109 in 2012. 

All in all, total direct compensation for general counsel fell 2.2 percent in the last year. While general counsel earned $1,148,313 in 2011, they took home $1,122,834 in 2012. 

But GCs can still take heart in the value of their bonus opportunities, says ACC CEO and president Veta Richardson. “The lion’s share of compensation, year by year, is at risk, meaning that it’s tied to the performance of the company and performance by the individual executive,” she says.

This year’s average target incentive stood at 73.9 percent, down slightly from 76.5 percent in 2011. 

That figure goes to show “that a significant opportunity exists to be paid based upon performance and delivering results in furtherance of the corporate objective,” explains Richardson, “and what it says to me is that these general counsel, as a whole, were highly regarded by their corporations to achieve bonus levels of three quarters of base salary.” 

ACC/Empsight also analyzed pay packages for law departments at mid-market and smaller companies. The mid-market edition of the survey examined 114 organizations with an average revenue of $2.01 billion, including Cal-Maine Foods Inc., JetBlue Airways Corporation, and Mary Kay Holding Corporation. 

The average base salary for GCs in that group came in at $347,662, with an additional annual cash bonus of $210,900. They had an average target incentive of 53 percent.

In the 2012 Small Law Department Compensation report, 412 organizations with average revenues of $190 million provided data on their pay practices. Participants included Alliant Insurance Services Inc., Blue Northern Energy, and Peet’s Coffee & Tea. 

GCs from these smaller companies earned $185,866 as an annual base, and $34,978 in cash bonuses. Their target incentive percentage came to 25.4 percent.

See also: “The 2012 GC Compensation Survey,” CorpCounsel, August 2012.