Christian Keim, Adobe

The multinational software company’s international legal head on his professional journey and experience working in-house at a tech company.

What inspired you to pursue a career in law, and how did you develop an interest in becoming an in-house lawyer?

There are a lot of different elements that came together. One is that I was always interested in mediating when someone was arguing or helping out if I felt like people were not heard or being treated unfairly. What I realised is that I like to create win-win situations, not someone winning and someone losing, but really finding ways that everyone can benefit from the situation.

When it comes to talking about the tech side, a lot of it was about me always being interested in new trends, new technologies, new gadgets, everything that popped up. Fortunately, I was curious enough to always investigate this, and I remember distinctly that when I was in a law firm, the internet had just started to pop up. At that time, it was seen as a bit of a hobby because no-one really saw much money in it as it was such early days. Yet, I continued that path, and that helped me prepare for my first in-house role at Yahoo!, two years later. If I hadn’t had that curiosity, I probably wouldn’t have done that.

The advantage of being an in-house lawyer is that it allows you to act as the mediator between law and business and to translate complex legal issues into simple rules that work for the business and interpreting them. I’ve always liked that. I often say to my team that we’re a bit like interpreters; we need to explain complex laws in a way that the business can operate and draw the right conclusions. That’s a big advantage of being an in-house lawyer: being good at doing this and speaking the language of the business.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your role?

It’s the fact that there are so many different areas where things can be interesting and enable new things; areas where you can influence something or pioneer something. To look at current times, this is all around AI where there are so many areas developing fast. It’s exciting that you can be at the forefront of shaping new forms of agreements with customers, and how AI is being used within Adobe in a way that is responsible. A lot of teams look to the legal team for answers as to how we should approach AI in the best possible way for customers and for society. So, that is really where you get the most satisfaction as a lawyer where you can influence a bigger impact than just what you are working on at the moment.

What are the most challenging aspects of your role as an in-house lawyer?

When you feel like there’s something as a company you should not pursue; things you have to say no to. This can be very hard. When you know someone’s worked hard on something and preparing it, and you have to say no, but you have to put the biggest needs of the company first. Those are the tough scenarios that lead to the moments where you feel you are letting someone down, even though you know deep down it’s for the right reasons.

How do you approach leadership and management, and how has your style adapted over time?

I try to provide my team members with a customised leadership style. I’m not a big believer in just using one-style-fits-all, but really trying to give everyone what they feel they need the most. In some instances, this is more coaching; in others, maybe more about challenging someone and giving them goals to drive them to the next level. Sometimes, it can also be about being a mentor, listening, and helping people express what they are aiming for and finding ways to help them.

What qualities are essential for excelling as an in-house lawyer in the technology sector?

It’s important for an in-house lawyer to really speak the language of the business and to understand what really drives the business, but also what drives the clients that we are consulting and what’s really on their minds to be able to help them in the day-to-day work. Also, I think to help shape questions in the business context. It’s easy to be a lawyer out of context and be very theoretical, but I think it’s really that ability to be very practical and show solutions that are helping the business to get to the point it would like to get to by not just saying no to what does not work but showing alternatives of what might work. I think that is key. On the tech side you need to understand technology, at least theoretically; you need to understand what is going on in order to see complexities and to really help to navigate through them, both for the business and for potential customers.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

There are too many to list! It’s good to look at who’s around you and who’s doing well; often, these are managers and business leaders that you’ve seen. Outside of the profession, I really do like people who can take the edge out of situations and find a way forward and compromise that feels like no-one is winning but no-one is losing, one that brings everyone forward. An example for me is Nelson Mandela, to live through adversity but not taking those negative experiences and becoming aggressive or looking for revenge; the ability to master that and balance that to inspire people is something I am really impressed by.

What do you consider to be your most significant professional accomplishment?

The main thing for me is to look at my team, a happy team that works well together. This is a great achievement. It took a lot of different building blocks to get to that point. Also, I have been with Adobe for 20 years, and there have been several moments in the company’s history that I have been part of that really feel like great achievements. For example, our successful switch from the old model to the Cloud, and now with AI, and how we have worked with this for the past five to ten years to now be able to launch great products. That’s great because it’s a lot of individual work that goes into it upfront, and when it all comes together into a product that’s being received well by the market too, like Firefly, these are the best moments.

How do you envision the legal industry, particularly in the technology sector, transforming in the coming years?

I am expecting an even higher speed in terms of developments. We always think that we are already at a time of high speed with new AI trends, for example, but I expect that we will require even faster adjustments. It will require us in the in-house tech community to be agile and able to react to change. The emphasis will be on not just advising the business on how to do AI but, particularly important, the impact of AI and considering ethical AI. While 99% of users probably use AI in a good way, there will always be some that use it in a way that wasn’t intended, and so it’s key to work on that to help customers and users understand and distinguish. Deepfakes, for example, are something that can come up with the use of our products, so we are working really hard on the content authenticity initiative to balance that and make sure our users have the ability to see what’s been created by AI and to be mindful of deepfakes that are used to manipulate people and lead them in the wrong direction.

Is there anything you would have done differently in your career, and what advice would you offer to lawyers aspiring to transition in-house within the technology field?

I don’t really like talking about regrets. I believe that a lot of things that perhaps went wrong in the moment have benefited me, either by learning how not to do things or learning that in certain circumstances you have to take certain measures, so there’s a good balance in that. It’s always important to want to learn; this is something that I have always tried to do. There have always been times in my nearly 30 years in the profession where I’ve taken on something new, and that’s the best way to learn a lot. Recently at Adobe I took on a business role for a year and a half on top of my normal role, and I learnt a lot from that and had to prove to myself that I could do it. So, I’d encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zones to try doing something different, be it in a different culture, a different country, or something beyond their normal scope because it brings positive learning and energy that helps you with your next steps.

What advice do you have for younger lawyers or individuals just starting their careers?

I often say this to younger lawyers seeking my advice: I like to tell them that everything helps. I’m a big fan of believing that certain things you can’t easily predict, you can’t completely plan your career, but if you get opportunities to learn something new and explore new areas – artificial intelligence now is a good example of that – everything you learn in these new fields comes in handy at some stage. I even go as far back as some of my jobs in my university or school time that I did on the side; they all came in handy in some shape or form.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

I love playing golf. I play badly, but it doesn’t really matter to me because I play to really switch off, and golf helps with that. I also like cinema and TV, although often I find myself watching shows with lawyers in them. I also like reading, when possible. I really like the John Grisham books – I’ve almost read all of them. I work a lot on reading a lot around issues that keep me busy on the business side, which is always nice when you see some of the work you’re doing as more of a hobby.

At a glance – Christian Keim


1999-2000 Senior legal manager, Yahoo! Europe Ltd
2001-03 Legal director EMEA, Yahoo! Europe Ltd
2003-19 Senior director, general counsel EMEA, associate general counsel, Adobe
2006-13 Non-executive director, Lokku
2010-present VP, head of international legal, deputy general counsel, Adobe
2021-23 Interim international head of partner sales, Adobe

Adobe – key facts

Size of team Leads a team of between 55-60 people across EMEA, APAC, LATAM, and Japan
External legal spend Not disclosed
Preferred advisers Not disclosed