Riya Kuo is a global leadership coach and trusted advisor to unconventional executives, entrepreneurs, and creatives. A former corporate lawyer, she has helped her clients win their first CEO role, develop the awareness and motivation to transform their careers, and lead with more confidence and ease.
- What is your current role?
Executive and leadership coach
- What kind of law did you practice before?
Corporate (tech sector) law at Microsoft and Sony Pictures and corporate law at Wilson Sonsini
- Why did you decide to leave the law?
I actually never thought I'd be in law as long as I was (almost 15 years), but the uncertainty of the 2008 recession and then a fantastic in-house opportunity to work with an unconventional technology business unit and do good work in the community kept me engaged. I've always loved the counseling aspect of practicing law, and continue to counsel in my current career while leaving some of the other aspects of law behind. Coaching is deeply fulfilling to me on a purpose-driven level, and I appreciate the freedom of having my own business. I do miss being a member of a high functioning legal team though!
- What legal skills do you still use today?
I am still a trusted advisor to executives and entrepreneurs, and I still partner with my clients to generate creative ideas, formulate strategic plans, and mitigate risk -- now it's around professional and personal challenges vs. building and delivering software products.
The ability to ask good questions and have the uncomfortable but necessary conversations that most people want to avoid is also a useful and important skill I have carried over from my legal practice. And being comfortable with "it depends" as an answer sometimes and still being able to support and advocate for the direction we go in to the best of my ability.
I would have followed my own interests and values more confidently. I left my law school and resigned from a journal that I joined because I felt like I was "supposed" to be on a journal, to be a visiting student at a school where I could take courses on race and the law as well as a clinic for violence against women. I ended up publishing in journals (vs. merely editing someone else's articles as journal staff) and even winning a writing award because I was so much more engaged there. I wish I had known that it was wholly possible to be both a Fortune 50 corporate lawyer and an advocate for access to justice without feeling like I had to choose one or the other from day 1.
- Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school?
- What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
The human aspects of being an exceptional lawyer are not taught in law school - how to build deep trust with clients, how to creatively enable business growth while still staying within the bounds of laws and regulations, how to understand all the corner cases but also to subjectively manage the actual risk. These are not traits that can necessarily be developed effectively via AI or machine learning, and I think these will be much more important skills to have going forward as more of the "paper pushing" aspects of law are supplanted by technological solutions.
- What are two pieces of advice that you would give to those looking for opportunities outside the law?
1. What is it that you've been doing your entire life, that practicing law was the logical next step to? And what would be the next step after or alongside law, to continue doing what it is that you uniquely do? Understand that.
2. It's ok to leave the law and come back. I've quit my legal career twice now. When I interviewed for my last law job (with a very conservative legal department), my two year sabbatical from law was a non-issue. Travel sabbaticals and time off are much more common than you may think, particularly from high stress, demanding roles.