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Katie Creedon

Chief Strategic Projects Officer

Wolf Greenfield

Boston, MA

JD & MBA Georgetown 

BA University of South Florida

Legal experiences gives C-Suite legal executive valuable insights

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EXJ:  Katie, you’re with Fish & Richardson arguably the top IP law firm in the US. Tell us about your present position, what you do.

Katie Creedon:  Sure. I am the Chief Legal Talent & Inclusion Officer at Fish.  I oversee a number of departments, one being legal recruiting, where we recruit our attorneys and technology specialists, both from law school and laterally.  I also oversee our professional development department, which manages attorney and tech spec training, performance reviews, promotion processes, things of that nature.  I also oversee our diversity and inclusion department, which makes sure that we are weaving DEI efforts through pretty much everything we do at the firm across legal and administrative staff.  I think we are really making advancements in that area and I believe we’re a bit ahead of the curve in the legal industry.  So, it’s been exciting to work with that team. Also, I oversee our pro bono department.  We have a very active pro bono practice within the firm. The vast majority of our attorneys do contribute some pro bono time over the course of the year.  Part of my team administers that process in terms of lining up opportunities and getting cases staffed.  And then we have an operations team that supports all of those efforts.  

ex judicata: Wow that’s a lot of responsibility.  Is marketing under your banner also?

Katie Creedon:  No, we have a separate marketing and business development team.  I report to our Chief Operating Officer and then she has a variety of business support services reporting into her, including marketing and business development.

ex judicata:  Your background includes pursuing a joint JD/MBA.  Can you tell us the thinking behind choosing to do both at the same time?  Were you always thinking about going into business from the start?

Katie Creedon:  Yeah.  I was initially thinking that I would go the business route.  I went into the JD/MBA program straight out of undergrad.  I had been working in a close- to full-time capacity during that time with Continental Airlines, which no longer exists.  So, at that time my hope was to continue as a business professional.  It’s somewhat rare for people to be accepted into MBA programs straight out of undergrad.

Usually, MBA programs want to populate their classes with people who bring a variety of experiences from the workplace.  So, it tends to be more folks who have graduated, worked for a while and then are going back to do their graduate work.  So, the law school portion of it was kind of a backdoor into the MBA program for me because it is much more normal for people to go straight through from undergrad to law school.  It turns out once I got there, I was kind of drawn to the legal side of things and ended up practicing law when I graduated.

ex judicata:  You told me something very funny about how your fellow MBA students viewed you as someone with a law degree. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Katie Creedon:  There were four of us that were doing the joint degree program at Georgetown when I was there.  And yeah, there was this kind of disproportionate sense that the law students were special.  I got the impression that some people were slightly jealous that we were getting this additional credential that they weren’t.   And that doing so imparted some special sense of wisdom.  Even though that’s largely unfounded.

ex judicata: That’s great.  We continue to see it in society. The JD degree sort of confers upon you some type of special wisdom even though it may not make any sense.

Katie Creedon: Yes.

ex judicata: What was your first position out of that joint JD/MBA program?

Katie Creedon: I was a US corporate associate based in London for Freshfields. I was doing international capital markets work.

ex judicata: Did you always want to work abroad?

Katie Creedon: Yeah, as soon as I found out, I think my first year of law school, that there were US attorneys in London, that was my goal. That was what I set my sights on.  I worked for an airline.  I love to travel.  London is arguably one of the major hubs in the world.  So it was it was very appealing for a lot of reasons.  I also loved the type of work.  I found it very interesting.  When I started down this path, I did think that I would probably live there, get permanent residency, but life kind of intervenes.  I met my now husband right after I graduated from law school, so I ended up moving back to the US. But that’s a happy ending from my perspective.

ex judicata:  And when you moved back to the US, did you just continue with Freshfields at that point?

Katie Creedon: No, I settled in Boston.  Freshfields did not have a Boston office.  I also wanted to get away from the capital markets work.  The lifestyle associated with that was not particularly sustainable for me.  But I did always enjoy corporate work.  So, when I moved to Boston, I transitioned to a private equity fund formation practice.  I was working at Proskauer.

ex judicata: Out of curiosity, was that work less intense than capital markets?

Katie Creedon: There are two buckets of that type of work – representing general partners or representing limited partners.  GP work feels a little bit more deal driven because you are raising and closing funds. So that’s a little bit closer to capital markets in terms of cadence.  Representing the limited partners in their investments I found was a little bit more manageable.  And by manageable, I mean a little bit more predictable.  You have a little bit more control over your workload.

ex judicata: So, you’re practicing law at Proskauer.  When do you pivot to the business side?

Katie Creedon:  I never really loved being a lawyer once I got into practice. There are aspects of it that I liked, but I knew early on that it was not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  But I also didn’t know what to do.  I looked at the kind of in-house stuff my background pointed me towards which was financial institutions.  I didn’t want to do that. So, I left the law entirely.  I was a math major in undergrad.  And one of the things math majors typically do is become actuaries. So, I decided I’d go back and take that path and become an actuary.

I did that for a while, around a year or two.  Then, it was really kind of chance that led me back into the legal industry on the administrative side.  I heard that the recruiting person at Proskauer had just moved to a different firm, and I just said, oh, who’s doing that job?  I wondered because I had always enjoyed being part of the summer program and interviewing candidates and mentoring more junior attorneys.  Those were the pieces of being a lawyer that I enjoyed.  So, it seemed like a good fit, and it worked out.

ex judicata: I didn’t realize that you also had a stint in actuarial work.  If someone is interested in that after practicing law, is there a kind of natural transition in some way?

Katie Creedon:  You definitely need to have the quantitative background.  I love math and I was impressed by the intensity of those exams.  But we’ll just leave it at that.  You have to really be prepared to undertake that study.  There are different areas of actuarial practice.  Very much like law in that being a lawyer doesn’t necessarily tell anybody what exactly you do.  Each of the different practice areas are so different in terms of the day to day work. 

ex judicata:  And it’s the same with actuaries?

Katie Creedon:  Yes. There are a lot of different areas that you can focus on.  And there were a couple of areas that did dovetail nicely with the work that I had done in private equity in terms of key person insurance policies and stuff of that nature.  Interesting, but I just didn’t get too far into it.  I do think it’s a natural transition from law if you have the kind of math aptitude to go in that direction.  And I will say there, too, people really loved the law degree, although it’s really not particularly relevant.

ex judicata: That’s how little I know. I didn’t realize there is a rigorous exam you need to pass to become an actuary.

Katie Creedon:  Yes, it’s a series of seven or more exams.  It takes quite a while.

ex judicata:  So, for those that are thinking of transitioning down that path it’s good to know.

Katie Creedon:  Yes, it’s a real commitment.

ex judicata:  So, a much more natural path when transitioning to business would be taking a managerial job staying within the law firm environment.  What advice would you give people who find themselves in your position?  Young associates that would like to transition out of the practice of law but who, for whatever reason, always enjoyed the law firm environment.  Is there a particular good way or not a good way to try to get a position in management at a law firm?

Katie Creedon:  I think it’s more common now for people who leave the practice to move into either recruiting or even more frequently professional development.  I think it does give you some good insight and also credibility that you’ve been a lawyer, and been in that job at a firm.  I think it’s helpful to understand what the associates are living on a day-to-day basis when you are working on programs to help them develop in their careers. It’s definitely useful experience.  The thing to keep in mind is, especially depending on what level you transition to, it’s a different role within a law firm.  You are no longer a fee earner.  You are a cost center.  Obviously, you’re still adding value, but it’s different. And law firms can be hierarchical places to differing degrees.  Being a business professional as opposed to a practicing attorney is a dynamic you should be prepared for and be okay with.  One positive trade off – you don’t bill time. Not billing time was the greatest freedom for me.

ex judicata:  Yes, many people I speak with who have management positions within law firms do feel that they’re viewed by the partnership on a different level.  Sort of what you were describing.  But those who do have a JD feel a bit more comfortable.  It’s always been my impression, going back to my very first job in a law firm during college when I was a proofreader (back when you had such a thing) that if you don’t have a JD and you’re working in a management position you don’t get the same amount of respect rightly or wrongly from the lawyers.

Katie Creedon:  I don’t know. I think it depends a lot on the firm and your level of seniority and experience. There are plenty of people in my world, in recruiting and PD, who don’t have a law degree, who are amazing at what they do, and are highly respected within their firms and within the industry.  I can imagine, though, that depending on the culture of a particular place, that management may be treated differently than the lawyers. I think it’s gotten better over time.

I think there’s more of an appreciation now for the contributions that business professionals make to the firm, and there is becoming less of a divide in firms who understand that. Firms are recognizing lawyers are trained to provide legal services and business people are trained to be experts in the areas they support, whether it be marketing or business development or training or recruiting.  And they’re fundamentally different jobs.  So just because you’re a lawyer doesn’t mean you can step in and do recruiting.  Also, seniority builds credibility.  At some level, you get to a place where it doesn’t really matter anymore because you are viewed as an expert within your field.

ex judicata: I know in your background, Katie, that you also were a member of the trade association, SHRM for human resources professionals.  What was the reasoning behind joining and any other thoughts around that?  Because that is another area that people who are transitioning out of the law may think about.  The whole HR world.

Katie Creedon: Yeah. I think anybody with an employment law background can make a smooth transition into a higher-level HR role.  I joined SHRM because in my last firm at one point I took over responsibility for our traditional HR department in addition to managing the legal talent department.  I was overseeing all of that.  So not growing up in the traditional HR world, I wanted to get some of the learning and the resources available through the industry trade association.

ex judicata:  But overall, though, you found HR maybe a little bit too limiting to just do that as a career?

Katie Creedon:  Well, it’s kind of like everything else.  It’s got a lot of different aspects to it.  Some of it I thought was super cool, especially in this post-COVID world where everybody is trying to figure out where we go with hybrid work, how we engage employees, how do we bring teams together?  I think that’s all fascinating and can be really high-level strategic, interesting work.   And it has to tie into your performance management, your compensation systems and your overall people strategy.  There are pieces of HR, though, that are much more compliance driven, much more of a situation for someone with an employment law background.

ex judicata:  How do you think overall, Katie, your law degree, we’ll put the MBA aside for the time being, helped shape you as a businessperson?

Katie Creedon:  It certainly gave me that practical work experience that I mentioned.  I had experiences that I could really apply to my work as a legal talent professional.  Even though I didn’t end up being a practicing attorney for my career, the time spent practicing did add value for sure to all my work experiences. It’s great being a businessperson with a law degree.  It does give you training in a way to think, a level of attention to detail and a kind of natural habit of assessing risks.

ex judicata:  One of the things that we’re doing is creating fundamental business training for attorneys that want to transition.  Core courses in areas like financial fluency.  Does that strike you as something that makes sense for anybody thinking about moving to business?

Katie Creedon: It depends on what you’re doing.  I think understanding the business that you are in is fundamental and the numbers are a part of that. Though I’m not in the finance department of the firm, I need to have a core understanding. I have to have a comfort level with all of the financial concepts.  I’m looking at staying within budgets and understanding comp.  I think a lot of attorneys naturally shy away from the numbers.  But you really have to wade in.

ex judicata: Yeah, that’s why we’re doing it.  Kind of tamp down the fear level when a lawyer moves to a business position and is suddenly confronted with P&L statements and the like. The other course idea, well we have a bunch, but one that has been suggested to us on several occasions has to do with teaching management skills to those moving to Corporate America.  Because law firm environments are unique.  It’s not like working in a regular organization.  Corporate America operates in a very different way. Chain of command.  You have a boss who has a boss who has a boss versus you’ve got 30 partners that are all your boss.  Can you speak to that a little bit, having been outside and back in the law firm environment?

Katie Creedon:  Yeah.  When you were asking the question initially, what popped into my mind was people management skills.  Managing both up and down.  Professional services firms are really tricky for the reason you mentioned.   You have 30 bosses…what do you even do?  How do you manage that situation?   But in a law firm on the business side, you’re talking about a more traditional structure.  There is a chain of command and getting stuff done through a team of people is the name of the game.  Most of my time is spent managing people.  So, in that regard, whether in Corporate America or on the management side of a law firm people skills are critical.

ex judicata: Katie, I’m conscious of your time. I really appreciate your talking with us.

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