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Lawyer Up Succession Gerri MAY23
25 May 2023

Why Succession’s Gerri Kellman is a pitch perfect GC

Published on 25 May 2023

It’s not often in-house lawyers find a hero in pop culture. From Suits and Ally McBeal, Law and Order, and To Kill a Mockingbird, popular portrayals of lawyers tend to focus on courtroom action and private practice, which are primarily the domain of litigators and corporate lawyers. Gerri Kellman, the pragmatic general counsel of prestige TV hit Succession, provides a rare glimpse into the realities of in-house law. As we close out the fourth and final season of Succession, we take a closer look at how Gerri’s Machiavellian manoeuvres have seen her secure her status as survivor, elder advisor and master of the chaotic powerplays that dominate the Roy family empire. 

A consummate Master of Commerce and Law 

For many in private practice, the allure of in-house life seems simple. You serve one client: the company. You never fight over fees. It’s a dream, right?

However, any in-house lawyer knows serving one client comes with its own conflicts. The tension between the interests of the company and the limits of what’s legal are ever present - especially when it’s the company who pays you. 

Never is this more obvious than when the FBI storms the offices of Waystar Royco in Episode 3, Season 3. Logan, the sometimes tyrannical, bullishly brilliant patriarch and CEO, has to date stubbornly refused any scrutiny of Waystar’s operations. However, mounting pressure from a Department of Justice and FBI investigation, partly driven by the instability ignited by his power-hungry eldest son, has culminated in a late night FBI raid. 

When Gerri delivers this news, Logan’s first instinct is typical: “Tell them to f#ck off.” 

These are the ones who don’t f#ck off,” she replies calmly. “This is a search warrant.” 

As Logan and upper management wheel around in panic, she holds her ground. Here, she perfectly exemplifies the uncomfortable role of a General Counsel (GC) - often the bearer of bad news, and safeguard against wanton acts of illegality. Many have succumbed to the overwhelming pressure to cross ethical and legal boundaries, but Gerri, never.

Gerri Kellman is the patron saint of General Counsels everywhere,” says Matthew Hodgkinson, General Counsel and founder of Papillon Technology and Privacy Lawyers, a company that provides fractional general counsel services. Having served ASX-listed technology companies, and purpose-driven investment funds, Matthew is well aware of the challenges faced by GCs. 

Just like in-house lawyers in real life, Gerri fights through egos, sociopathy and constant sexual harassment to do her fiduciary best for the company she serves,” says Matthew.

In the world of Succession, money is less about survival than a reflection of status. As GC, Gerri finds herself representative of the regulatory framework the Roys would rather avoid. Striding coolly through panic attacks, tantrums and tyrannical meltdowns, Gerri is the last person in the room to lose her temper. In this sense, she embodies the ideal of a GC: 

As GC, Gerri finds herself representative of the regulatory framework the Roys would rather avoid

From kingmaker to interim CEO 

As GC, Gerri consistently speaks truth to power - even and especially when it’s extremely uncomfortable to do so. From Senate hearings to shareholder revolts, she works hand in glove with the Head of Comms and PR to manage optics, frame narratives, and restrain the excesses of ego and monopolistic desires. 

It’s a role of unique influence. Having served the Roy family for decades, she’s had front row seats to the immense stress of difficult decisions. As the children bicker over who could be CEO in Season 1, Gerri is the first to declare: “I don’t want the job [CEO] that makes your head explode.” 

As an in-house lawyer, Gerri is keenly aware that her fiduciary duties lie with the company, Waystar Royco. However, as a family empire, she faces a conundrum all too familiar to in-house counsel - the Roy family would argue that they are the company. Indeed, Logan has made it clear he hopes one of his own children will succeed him as CEO. 

Although she is godmother to Siobhan Roy, Gerri also proves an unlikely ally to youngest son Roman Roy. Time and again, she guides him through the complex politics and personalities of Waystar Royco - and it’s clear his rise would be impossible without her.

Gerri also proves an unlikely ally to youngest son Roman Roy

She treads the rarified air of the Roy family like an acrobat on a tightrope, taking on the interim CEO role without missing a beat,” says Matthew. “She understands the company's business, its people, its environment and its stakeholders intimately, and is by far the most empathetic character on the show (not that that is saying much)!” 

Constantly asked to fix messes she never created; Gerri is the last person you would want to cross. When Roman, under pressure, eventually does, the consequences are dire. In his ‘fake firing’ of Gerri, he demands she respect him ‘like his father’ - or leave. This is a step too far.

Though her relationship with Roman probably requires its own article - one that belongs more in Australian Journal of Psychology than on the College of Law website - Roman’s betrayal is enough to spur Gerri to tell him an unvarnished truth: 

Roman’s betrayal is enough to spur Gerri to tell him an unvarnished truth

The reluctant leader - and the only adult in most rooms 

Very few Hollywood TV shows show the power of in-house counsel like Succession,” says Matthew. “Through SEC investigations, Senate hearings and DoJ examinations, she has consistently kept the company afloat, while not once letting out a single exasperated sigh or an ‘I told you so’.” 

Indeed, when the team is summoned to Norway to parlay with their future Swedish tech parent company, it’s Gerri who soothes nerves and rallies the troops with a monologue reminiscent of Shakespeare: 

Sure, they’re young, and they’re fit, but they’re European. They may think they’re Vikings, but we’ve been raised by wolves, exposed to a pathogen known as Logan Roy. And they have no idea what’s coming to them.” 

it’s Gerri who soothes nerves and rallies the troops with a monologue reminiscent of Shakespeare

Clever enough to step aside, when necessary, she proves to be a far better master of power than many in the Roy family - from the spoiled Roy children, to resident ‘here for the ride’ cousin Greg, or upwardly mobile son-in-law Tom.

In a world without heroes, no one in Succession is likeable, and Gerri is no exception. While her fiduciary obligations to the company remain paramount throughout, Succession does not reward altruism. That’s why, when pushed, Gerri reveals how she’s survived so effectively for so long - self-interest.

In a sense, Gerri embodies the tension at play for all in-house counsel.

In a sense, Gerri embodies the tension at play for all in-house counsel.

In an entertainment world where private practice lawyers have all the street cred (‘Suits’ and ‘Billions’, for example), if we can all be a little more like Gerri, we could be better in-house lawyers,” said Matthew. 

The College of Law offers postgraduate 'In-house Practice' courses including a Graduate Diploma and Masters in Law. These programs focus on the commercial aspects of being an in-house lawyer. The law is covered, but always in the context of the commercial realities faced by in-house counsel.

To learn more head to the course page here.

Practitioners are crucial to the daily function of the corporations and organisations they represent.

Written by Wenee Yap, Legal Features Writer for the College of Law.