Balancing parenthood with being a company's first lawyer

Legal Beagle at Who Gives a Crap on being the first legal counsel in a company and balancing parenthood with being a lawyer

Kate Sherburn, Legal Beagle at Who Gives a Crap in Australia, spoke to our founder Ben White in an episode of our podcast The Crafty Show. Here are some key take-aways from their conversation.

Who Gives A Crap is a Mission-based company selling good-looking, environmentally friendly toilet paper, paper towels, and tissues, and also now Dream Cloths . The company donates 50% of its profits to help build toilets for those in need.

Kate was the first in-house lawyer at Who Gives a Crap and was awarded new in-house lawyer of the year by the Association of Corporate Counsel in Australia in 2020. She spoke to us about balancing work and children, what it's like being the first in-house lawyer in the company, and why Kate cares about working for a mission-based organisation.

Emojis at work?

One of Kate’s favourite emojis at work is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the poop emoji 💩 of which she says “It's somewhat appropriate in our line of work, but it's also so versatile. You can just use it for so many things.” She also uses the celebratory emoji.

Being the first lawyer at a mission based company

Kate says it has been an interesting journey with many surprises including how receptive everyone was to “having a lawyer in the company.” She says the company had over 50 employees and most of them had not worked with lawyers before she joined. She says the work environment at the company has been “the most collaborative and supportive work environment “ she’s ever experienced.

She says she learns something new everyday and one of those things is how to be a better listener. Kate says “I spent a lot of time listening, working out how the best way that a legal team could be integrated into the business and then how we could do that in a way that would work best.” In doing so Kate says she learned so much about the business and now continually asks herself questions like “ will this help the business? “ and “will this help us achieve our goals?”.

The company is a social enterprise or a profit for purpose company. Kate says their “mission as a business is to ensure that everyone on earth has access to a toilet and safe water by 2050.”

She tells the story of how the company was created, which was when the CEO of the company recognised that there was a great need for donations to charities that help people access clean toilets and safe water. The idea behind the company is that people would be more willing to donate if the donation is tied to a product that they have to buy anyway, like toilet paper. She says “if you took a product that people have to buy like toilet paper, but you donated 50% of those profits to charities that work in that space, then those donations would increase without asking people to just donate more money” explains Kate.

Kate says that businesses have the potential to help make some serious impacts on some really big issues with this model.” Kate says her role is probably not that different to other in-house roles except that she “probably exposed to more toilet jokes and GIFs and puns than most lawyers.”

What she loves about the role is that the whole team is “working towards the same goal”. She says that at the start of every meeting the team members remind themselves that they are there to ensure everyone on earth has access to a toilet and safe water. She says “it means that every decision we make, every contractor review, we look at it through this lens, like will this help us achieve that goal?”.

Does being a lawyer make you a better parent?

For Kate there are a multitude of reasons why working as a parent makes her a better lawyer. She says when she became a parent she realised that “what we say isn't always what's heard. So you can repeat yourself until you're blue in the face, but if you are talking to a child and they don't understand what you're saying, you're just completely wasting your time.”

Kate says the experience of having to consider things from the perspective of her children has translated well into a business setting “you have to look at things from the perspective of your audience and explain things in a way that they get. That might mean having to try multiple different ways of saying something until it lands. But you have to think about it from their point of view, not just what you are trying to get across.”

“You have to look at things from the perspective of your audience and explain things in a way that they get. That might mean having to try multiple different ways of saying something until it lands. But you have to think about it from their point of view, not just what you are trying to get across.” 

Kate says “parenting is an extreme version of this because kids have much lower concentration levels, language, comprehension, and well, toddlers are toddlers, but I think, particularly as lawyers, it's something to really think about when we look at how we advise our clients.” She says that it doesn’t matter whether the advice is “spectacular, technically brilliant”, because if the recipient is not able to understand that advice and therefore use it then “ you may as well have not done any of that work”.

Parenthood has improved Kate's negotiating skills and has made her more patient, she says “anyone that’s spoken to a toddler can understand that”. She is also more productive. “ I look back at my time pre-kids and you could afford to waste a little bit of time, I think. Or at least I could, because I had that time to waste. Now I just don't. I have to get on with things and I have to be present in what I'm doing, both at work and when I'm with my family.”

You can listen to Kate’s full interview with Ben on The Crafty Show podcast.