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The journey to being a legal leader with Kate Sherburn and Theo Kapodistrias

What constitutes legal leadership? One thing we know for sure is that it’s more than just legal depth, a culmination of hard and soft skills that result in a person who can effectively lead their legal team. Embracing digitization is as important as emotional intelligence. Communicating the value of legal to the ELT means as much as your ability to be creative and agile in your response to problems. 

Bearing that in mind, the pathway to being an in-house legal leader is unique for every individual, despite sharing the common goal of being a GC or CLO. Kate Sherburn and Theo Kapodistrias discuss their journey to become legal leaders, the skills they think constitute a great legal leader, and offer advice for junior lawyers who have their eyes on the coveted positions of GC and CLO.

Did you always have the vision to become a legal leader (GC, Senior Legal Counsel)? If not, when did you decide you wanted this position? 

KS: I knew from very early on that I wanted to work in-house. I had taken a year off during uni to work as a paralegal in an in-house legal team and I loved every minute of it. 

At that point, I wasn’t aiming particularly at legal leadership, however as time went on and I found myself in a role I loved, working at a company I felt very passionate about, that next step happened quite organically. 

TK: When I entered the in-house legal space, I thought it would be excellent to try and figure out the path for becoming a legal leader and what it would mean to be in such a position. I think as I learned more about what it was like to be an in-house lawyer and the progression potential, the idea of being a GC or Chief Legal Officer was really appealing and exciting to me. I wanted to prepare myself to potentially head in that direction. 

What personal and professional attributes do you believe helped you move from in-house counsel to the GC position? 

KS: The ability to build relationships is a big one. When you’re advising the team, trust is such an important factor - and that all starts with your relationships. Looking at the bigger picture - seeing where legal fits within the business as a whole and not as a standalone function - means we grow with the business. 

TK: There were a few key skills: communication, collaboration, and strategy. Communication is a skill I am particularly passionate about. I believe it is one of the key things individuals need to continually work on to ensure they use their speaking and writing skills to assist others and to share complicated concepts in an easy-to-understand format. Collaboration is an important skill as it is critical to work with others when in an in-house legal position, especially when you're the General Counsel. It is so important to have open discussions with every other department as it is critical to have a trusted relationship with everyone who will need your support. 

What advice would you give to in-house counsel with their eyes set on the position of GC or other legal leadership roles? 

KS: Everything is a learning opportunity. Look at those that you admire and see what they do. Take on smaller leadership roles such as running a legal or cross-functional project, and gain experience on the job. 

TK: It is important to understand the type of role that would excite you and what is required in it. Most senior legal positions encompass more than just technical legal expertise, also strategy, strong commercial acumen, excellent collaborative skills, and communication. 


It's important to develop a broad set of skills and take advantage of any learning opportunities which may be available. Other useful things are finding a mentor who you can speak with and learn from, and learn about other people's journeys and what was right for them to get the opportunities available to them. 

Does the responsibility that comes with being a legal leader require a skill set beyond legal expertise? 

KS: Definitely. A technically excellent lawyer can still struggle with leadership. In the same sense, you don’t have to be the most technically excellent lawyer to be a brilliant legal leader. But you do need that excellence in your team somewhere, and you have to have enough knowledge to understand what the experts are saying and to know when you need to bring other people in. You must also be a great communicator, be open to new ideas, learn to listen really well, and above all, be approachable and trusted. 

TK: Legal expertise is one thing, but being a legal leader requires much more. Dealing with internal and external stakeholders is essential, particularly because the role involves speaking with and working with so many people. 

How do you maintain a growth mindset? 

KS: I try to learn something from everyone I meet. I’m open to new ideas and love hearing about what others are doing. Not just other legal teams, but other businesses or teams outside of legal that might be finding better ways to do things. I am always open to being told my view is wrong, provided someone can show me why it’s wrong.

TK: It almost feels like second nature in an in-house position as there is always so much learning and development with every new issue you come across. It is so important to always aim to be the best version of oneself, and to find opportunities that will stretch you. I find that saying yes to opportunities that present themselves to me has been an excellent way for me to learn and develop myself further. 

What things did you do, show, prepare or prove in order to move up and become a GC?

KS: I showed I was aware of my gaps and that I wanted to work on them. That was a conversation that started well before I was looking to move up into a more senior position. I’m constantly reassessing what skills I need to further develop and then seek assistance in developing them. 

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