The top-paid general counsel in the nation last year was Denise Keane at Richmond-based tobacco giant Altria Group, which owns Phillip Morris. Keane took home $6.5 million in total cash compensation in 2010, according to Corporate Counsel magazine’s annual GC Compensation Survey.

Keane is the first female GC to top the list since its inception in 1994, and is one of a record 14 female attorneys on the list.

Overall, compensation for top legal officers was healthy, with cash payments surging 18 percent. Stock-options payments and bonuses declined, but nonequity incentive compensation — which is tied to performance — rose by double digits in 2010.

Rounding out the top five were: Donald de Brier of Occidental Petroleum Corp. ($6.0 million), Russell Deyo of Johnson & Johnson ($4.7 million), Thomas McCoy of Advanced Micro Devices ($4.6 million) and Louis Briskman of CBS ($4.3 million).

New leaderhip at Gibson Dunn’s D.C. office

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher has named Daniel Nelson and Drew Tulumello as co-partners in charge of its Washington office, replacing Arthur Pasternak and Karen Manos, who have returned to their respective practices at the firm.

Nelson specializes in complex business, antitrust and environmental and mass tort litigation. Tulumello is vice chairman of the firm’s class-action and crisis-management practice groups.

Morrison & Foster bolsters tax practice

Philip Tatarowicz has joined Morrison & Foerster as of counsel in the firm’s state and local tax practice in Washington. Tatarowicz was previously of counsel at Ernst & Young, where he established the firm’s state and local tax group, and has advised companies in the retail, consumer goods and aerospace industries on corporate state and local tax matters.

Tatarowicz serves on the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Council and is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center.

Sony Ericsson counsel rejoins Venable

Justin Pierce, head of Sony Ericsson’s global design, trademark and copyright portfolio, has joined Venable’s intellectual property practice in Washington, his second stint with the firm.

Pierce previously worked at Venable for six years before going in-house at Sony Ericsson in 2006. He will continue to represent the mobile communications giant while at Venable, where he will focus on IP matters including licensing, anti-counterfeiting, domain name and and privacy matters.