Corporate scandals and Sarbanes-Oxley reform law have made corporate counsel more valuable – and more money – than ever before. Corporations are realising that legal counsel are crucial to their success – perhaps even survival.

Most of the GCs on Corporate Counsel’s compensation survey are making more in salary and bonuses than ever before. What’s more, this year’s data, culled from proxy reports and financial statements, shows a surprising trend. The spike in salaries and bonuses was greatest for GCs at the bottom of our list (those ranked 76-100) like Luraschi (No. 94) — 17 percent on average.

Overall, GC compensation jumped 9 percent in 2002, as the average salary and bonus package passed the $1 million mark for only the second time in the survey’s 10-year history (the other was 2000; there was a slight dip in 2001). Last year saw quite a change from 2001, when GC salaries were effectively frozen and bonuses plunged by 12 percent. In 2002, the average salary grew 6 percent, from $474,448 to $503,545, and the average bonus surged 13 percent, from $489,107 to $550,397.

That’s the good news. But stock options — the enticement that drew big-firm lawyers in house during the bubble years — plummeted. Option grants to GCs declined 30 percent in two years’ time, from an average $2 million in 2000 to $1.4 million in 2002. The last time stock options were this low for GCs was 1996.

More hard cash, less cold stock: a formula that’s in vogue in boardrooms everywhere.

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