July 10, 2016
I’m the #2 lawyer in my company and am being promoted to GC. Should I ask for a GC “market” compensation or just leave it and be grateful for the promotion? If I do ask, what should I say?
Congratulations on your promotion to General Counsel! This is a difficult achievement so it is important to acknowledge and celebrate your success…and be grateful. But is asking for more money pushing it? Is it appropriate to request to be lifted to a “market” compensation that reflects your new GC status?
In the overwhelming majority of situations when a lawyer has been internally promoted to Head of This or VP of That, the compensation accompanying the new title will not reflect a “market” rate for the position. Why? Two reasons: (1) Because market compensation is generally reserved for those lawyers who already possess GC experience and who have already operated in this role for a period of time; and (2) The executives don’t have to. The promotion itself is a big career opportunity that a lawyer won’t likely turn down regardless of compensation – and executives know it.
In your situation, you do not possess prior GC experience and this will be your first time in such a role. So your background and skillset are not as developed as other seasoned GCs in the market…yet. While you have worked at the company for some time, there will be much to learn about being the top legal executive and you will need to develop new skills in order to succeed in the function. Because of these issues, there is an element of risk the executives are taking by promoting you. Finally, the promotion to GC is a career break that is not easy to come by. So that factor should carry a great deal of weight in your overall assessment of the situation.
With this said, this is a promotion to a bigger role with a bigger title at the executive level. It carries with it more responsibilities…and more risk for you as the company’s top Legal Eagle. You will also provide greater value to the organization by virtue of your new position. So, it is reasonable to want your compensation to reflect these changes. And it’s reasonable to ask. But an increase to equal “market” GC compensation is highly unlikely. So it would be wise to manage your expectations accordingly.
When discussing the topic with your new boss it will be important to use the right tone and the right message. Below is a sample:
“Hi Chris, I am so excited about the opportunity you have provided for me to become the company’s General Counsel. I couldn’t be more grateful and look forward to doing a great job. When we initially discussed the promotion, we did not talk about compensation and whether there would be an adjustment to reflect the increased responsibilities and new executive position within the company. I’ve given it some thought and believe it would be a reasonable to make an adjustment. Since I don’t have prior GC experience, I don’t think “market” GC compensation makes sense, but I wanted to get your thoughts on increasing it to $_______ (fill in the blank). I think this number is fair and hope you do as well.”
You have just gained membership to the exclusive General Counsel Club – and it will be a wonderful new chapter in your career. The promotion itself is significant and you should be most grateful. But your desire to discuss a compensation increase is also reasonable…and appropriate given your newly elevated status. So have the conversation…and make the request. By explaining your rationale and doing so graciously, you will maximize your chances of receiving an adjustment that will reflect the new executive leader you have become.