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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

August 7, 2016
Question

I was promoted to GC in my company and am being paid below market. When is the appropriate time to ask to be brought up standard GC market compensation? 3 years? 5 years? 10 years?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Congratulations on your promotion to GC and new status as King of the Hill. While your accompanying compensation is below market for such a position, the trade-off was likely worth it to reach a major career goal. As the company’s legal head you will learn the ropes and start earning your stripes in the upcoming years. And management as well as the Board will be watching closely. After Year 1, a standard raise will likely ensue, assuming things go well and you prove yourself to be a valuable member of the team. But this standard increase won’t pull you up to the market rate that reflects what many other prototypical GCs are earning today.

The “appropriate” time to proactively ask for parity will vary depending on your company and the circumstances of your situation. Generally speaking; however it is appropriate to raise the issue after you have completed your second full year in the role. Choosing to inquire earlier is ok, but would be a bit premature – as doing so could create potential career risks with an extremely low likelihood of getting what you want. So I recommend that you wait until you have more GC tenure…and experience under your belt and can make a more compelling case for compensation equality.

With this said, the time in between should not be spent merely biding your time until The Talk. In addition to growing and learning in your new role, take note (literally) of your accomplishments and the value you have brought to the organization in the time to come. Have you saved the company money? Grown the team? Won a key litigation matter? Built an offensive IP program? Won departmental awards in the legal community? Whatever the achievement, write it down as it happens real time and include notes for detail – so when the time comes, this information will serve as the backbone of your narrative when you make your case. It’s hard to argue with positive results, so the more you can point to, the more likely thee shall receive.

You’ve reached a career milestone with your recent promotion to General Counsel. And that is something to celebrate. The accompanying compensation may not receive the same level of applause, but it need not remain below market for eternity. By using the next two years to grow and develop into a seasoned General Counsel, you’ll be well positioned to ask for…and secure a salary that more accurately reflects the legal leader you have become.

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