Catie Sheret: “A year of some real shoots of positive change”

Catie Sheret is general counsel and company secretary at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, the publishing and assessment department of the University of Cambridge. She is responsible for legal and compliance, as is also part of the O Shaped Lawyer group, which focuses on creating a ‘more human’ legal profession. We asked what her key takeaways are from 2023, including the major milestones and biggest surprises.

What are your key takeaways from 2023?
This has felt like a year of some real shoots of positive change, with a much stronger focus on ESG in a genuine way. There’s been an uptick in law firms and legal services providers becoming B Corps: Bates Wells led the way in 2015, and is now joined by Obelisk, EMW Law, Joelson and the London Law Collective. O Shaped has been making great progress in driving improved culture with its inaugural O List awards, and LexSolutions launched the Law Firm Maturity Index to create a cultural benchmark for the legal sector. What has been the focus of your team? Our team was highly commended at the Cambridgeshire Law Society awards in the In-House Team of the Year category, which a year into a merger was a proud achievement and a great start to 2023. Since then our focus has been on legal operations, building out our team, fixing our processes, driving increased automation especially of our contracts, and tendering for our first demand and matter management system. Working with Simmons Wavelength has been a huge help in increasing our progress on this and has even involved forays into gen AI pilots too.

What would you say the major milestones have been?
We’re particularly proud of hiring our first apprentices and trainees, including our first trainee solicitor apprentice (through Flex Legal), to improve access to our organisation and the legal profession. And our participation in InterLaw Diversity Forum’s UK Model Diversity Survey has started to yield tangible benefits in assessing our law firms’ approach to D&I, bringing data uniformity, time efficiency, and comparability, all delivered through  a helpful dashboard so we don’t need a team of people to analyse the data provided.

And the biggest surprises?
The growth of the in-house voice has been marked this year: whether on regulatory independence and ethics (looking at you, Jenifer Swallow!), through initiatives like the UK Model Diversity Survey and O Shaped or on ESG topics like pushing law firms to transparency on advised carbon emissions. General Counsel Sustainability Leaders is another standout example, which now has 40 GCs in the Leaders Programme who are responsible for $153bn of revenue – and I’m very proud to be one of its ambassadors.

How have in-house teams coped?
The usual challenges remain of trying to deliver on BAU and improve ways of working, whilst dealing with increased regulatory burden and operational complexity. Working out how to change the tyres and the spark plugs while the vehicle is barrelling along in the fast lane doesn’t get any easier.

And what are the opportunities that have arisen?
A big focus for us this year has been gen AI – in our organisation and for my team. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to work with people across our organisation to come up with our safe use process and a suitable governance structure that doesn’t stifle innovation. We’ve also progressed with our own use cases around contract review and knowledge management, and it’s been an opportunity to learn a lot of new concepts from prompt engineering to embeddings. I’ve particularly enjoyed Josh Kubicki’s Brainyacts Generative AI Blueprint course, highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand more.

What are your predictions for 2024?
With the increasing sophistication and ease-of-use of legal tech (especially AI-driven) solutions, the potential value these tools can add is undeniable, which will also increase the need and demand for more legal operations capability in in-house teams – it feels like a real tipping-point.