Case study

Dan Mair — Trainee solicitor

White & Case LLP

Dan is a third seat trainee at White & Case, currently working in Intellectual Property (Data, Privacy and Cybersecurity). He has completed seats in International Arbitration and Real Estate Finance

What course did you study and where?

I studied history at the University of Warwick, before completing the PGDL and LPC at BPP University.

Why did you decide on a career in law?

I wanted to continue developing the skills I had acquired as an undergraduate. As a history student, I particularly enjoyed analysing (and deconstructing) an author’s position, before developing a counter-argument of my own. I also developed a persuasive writing style (credit to Benjamin Smith), that I enjoyed using. I felt a career in law would allow me to continue to develop, and apply, those skills.

What attracted you to the firm?

Ultimately, I was attracted to White & Case because I saw myself as a good fit for the firm, and the firm as a good fit for me. In my application, I referred to two factors to demonstrate this.

First, White & Case’s internationality. This is clearly shown by the guaranteed overseas seat and vast geographical spread. Having represented team GB as a teenager, not only did I have experience operating on an international platform, but I also valued the opportunity to work in a truly global team. The culture at White & Case is international and places a heavy emphasis on early career development. These were things I wanted from an employer.

Second, the genuine responsibility available to trainees. Every trainee I met during the application process recounted examples of where they had been given responsibility beyond what they had expected - or had heard was typical - at a relatively junior stage. As an undergraduate, I had actively sought responsibility through clubs and societies; it seemed working at White & Case would allow me to continue this trend.

What was the application process like?

I applied for the vacation scheme. Practically, it was made up of a cover letter, video interview, and an in-person interview. There were a series of assessments on my vacation scheme which culminated in an interview for the training contract. Albeit a long time ago, the part of the application process that I most remember was its focus on me as a person; I was surprised, for example, by the continued interest in my extra-curricular activities.

My experience informs my advice to applicants vis-à-vis the application process. While there is a heavy emphasis on ‘commercial awareness’, which undoubtedly has its place, don’t feel as if you have to focus on it to the detriment of your other strengths. If commercial awareness is your strength, and you have a particular interest in a specific aspect of finance for a reason, then OK. But if, like me, you were sufficiently commercially aware yet more impressive in your extra-curricular interests, then use those to drive your application. My application did not discuss a recent deal that White & Case were involved in. Instead, I discussed my experience on sports teams, clubs, and societies - and why those experiences made me a good fit for White & Case. At each stage of the process, I found White & Case employees to be more interested in those experiences.

What does your training contract involve?

Work differs across departments but some examples of tasks include:

conducting legal research and discussing how your findings impact the clients position
assisting with a hearing by, for example, preparing a bundle
drafting board minutes and/or directors certificates which approve the company’s entry into the transaction documents;
coordinating local counsel(s) to ensure that all conditions precedent are satisfied by the time signing occurs
conducting legal research on data protection related questions
reviewing and commenting on data privacy, technology and cybersecurity policies.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

Being intellectually challenged. In my mind, there are two parts to this: the work, and my colleagues.

The work in itself is intellectually challenging. It spans borders, accounts for the complexities of commerce and law, and is often delivered on a tight timeline. For example, I was involved in drafting sections of a submission while in Arbitration. Not only did I have to understand the legal position of both sides, but I also had to understand the expert reports in order to grasp the disputes more technical elements. The eventual draft took those legal and factual complexities into account.

The second part to being intellectually challenged is those around you. To be intellectually challenged at the most junior level, you rely on delegation from your more senior colleagues. The responsibility given to trainees was one of the reasons I was initially attracted to White & Case. In each of my seats, I have been given tasks that I honestly did not expect to receive as a trainee, and appropriately supervised while I completed them. I would not have enjoyed my training contract as much without colleagues that are invested in the development of others, and willing to trust others to complete substantive tasks.

While being intellectually challenged is the part of my job that I enjoy most, I also want to highlight the more human side of the relationships that I have developed with my colleagues, as there is no doubt that I enjoy my job more because of them. I’ve been consistently surprised at how each department that I have sat in has integrated me, and made me feel welcome, in its own way. I’ve developed friendships on every level at White & Case: from associates to members of the maintenance team, to the hospitality staff, to partners, and trainees.

What are the challenges?

Professionally speaking, working for an international law firm poses specific challenges. For instance, trainee’s will regularly coordinate teams across multiple jurisdictions; a task which is logistically challenging. Each jurisdiction has its own legal requirements, commercial considerations, and - practically speaking - time-zone considerations. All of these factors need to be borne in mind and considered as part of a broader picture while working towards a signing date.

There are also softer professional challenges - how to appropriately set boundaries, manage competing deadlines, and deal with mistakes without letting it undermine your self-confidence.

Then there are the personal challenges that accompany a career in law. Bouts of imposter syndrome and anxiety recur most acutely (for me at least) with each rotation of the training contract, as you move from a department in which you have six months of experience to a completely new team. While this is undoubtedly exciting, I’ve not met a trainee who hasn’t, at some point, felt anxious about completing a relatively simple task for the first time.

And then there is qualification. With each seat, every trainee considers whether the department they are in is one in which they would like to pursue a career. But there is also the fact that the availability of that career depends on the department making you an offer, and there being sufficient business need for a newly qualified associate. Dealing with this reality is a challenge that is often overlooked, and underdiscussed, until you start.

Can you debunk a myth about working in law?

The biggest myth is that lawyers work all the time. Based on little more than what I had read online, I expected to be finishing at midnight on the weekdays and working most weekends. That was a big misconception. While there are busy periods, where you can expect to be working up until midnight in the week and pitching in occasionally on the weekend, those are not considered the ‘norm’. In my training contract, I’ve only had to work the occasional weekend and would estimate my average leave time to be in the region of 8-9pm. The amount of substantive work I have had to complete outside of those hours has been minimal. I think this is fairly reflective of my cohort’s experience.

There is also a misconception around people’s expectations of what sacrifices you should and should not make. Largely, you learn to set your own boundaries, recognising where it is and is not appropriate to do so, but colleagues are also very understanding of personal priorities. For instance, I had a recurring appointment every Tuesday. I let me supervisor(s) know and was never questioned on what it was, let alone made to feel as if I shouldn’t be going. If you have a family birthday, a friends graduation, or something of personal importance, there is almost always a workaround.
What advice would you give to someone considering applying?

You need to interact with the firm in-person (sign up for a careers dinner, open day, or any other on-campus event), ask questions that are important to you, and decide whether you could see yourself happily working here - whether that be because of the firm’s culture, the nature of the work, or for any other reason.

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