Case study

Laura Johnson — Trainee solicitor

White & Case LLP

Laura is a second-seat trainee in the Litigation department at White & Case, having completed her first seat in Corporate Private Equity

What course did you study and where

I studied history at the University of York.

Why did you decide on a career in law

A career in commercial law appealed to me because the work is intellectually challenging, collaborative, and international. I thrive when learning from others and maintain a growth mindset, so I knew that working alongside successful and bright individuals on complex cross-border transactions would energise me. I also felt that the skills I had gained from my history degree - such as an analytical mindset, strong written and oral communication skills, and excellent time management - were highly transferrable to the legal industry.

What attracted you to the firm

Firstly, White & Case has a strong reputation across its departments and is a truly full-service outfit. Because of this, I knew that any seat I undertook during a training contract would give me great exposure to the relevant sector. It is particularly renowned for its work in the energy field, which is something I was and am keen to gain exposure to.

Further, US firms like White & Case are typically known to prefer training on-the-job, which I felt would match my preferred learning style; I find I learn a lot more by doing something myself.

White & Case also offers a guaranteed overseas seat in the fourth seat, which is a great opportunity to gain exposure to different working cultures and improve your international network. The firm is truly international, evidenced by the fact that, during my training contract, I have never worked on a deal or case without an international element.

The firm also takes its commitment to pro bono very seriously; each employee has a goal of 20 hours per year and employees are highly encouraged to get involved. Pro bono is something I was keen to take part in during my career, and White & Case offers its employees the chance to get involved in interesting and important matters; for example, I am currently assisting an individual in making a Windrush compensation claim.

What was the application process like

White & Case’s application process involves several stages. First, I submitted a cover letter, setting out my reasons for applying to the firm. From there, I moved to the video interview stage, which involved answering three questions and lasted around 15 minutes. I was then invited to the next stage, where I completed an hour-long written assessment (now a 75-minute assessment) and an interview with an associate and a member of the graduate resourcing and development team. Following this, I completed a two-week vacation scheme in the Mergers & Acquisitions department (which took place virtually because of the pandemic). I was fortunate to be offered a training contract after this experience.

What is a typical day like as a trainee solicitor

It depends on the department you are in, and the stage the client work has reached. For example, in my Private Equity seat, my daily tasks could involve liaising with colleagues, clients, and other law firms, assisting on due diligence, preparing for the closing of a deal by compiling signing trackers and signing packs, and assisting on ancillary transaction documents. In the Litigation department, I spend my time proofreading submissions and memos, reviewing documents as part of the disclosure process, assisting with the preparation of bundles for hearings, and researching a wide variety of topics. In both these departments, there is a lot of variety in the work I am asked to do, which develops a broad set of skills.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most

The international element. As I mentioned, the deals and cases I have worked on so far have all involved an international aspect. Often, our clients will either be based overseas and/or have international interests, or perhaps the relevant contract will be governed by the laws of England and Wales. This international element necessitates conversing with clients from different cultures, as well as liaising with local counsel and/or offices in the White & Case network. International work presents unique challenges, such as adapting to time differences and cultural practices, but it is something that greatly energises me. Being able to broaden my horizons and learn beyond the jurisdiction I live and work in is something I am immensely grateful for.

What are the challenges

I would say one of the most challenging aspects about being a trainee at White & Case is the level of responsibility given. This is simultaneously one of my favourite things, and a part of the role that felt like a huge step up. I think it’s natural when faced with huge responsibility to wonder whether you are ready, but it is also an amazing opportunity to grow. At White & Case, the onus is on you as an individual to take ownership of these experiences, which can feel scary, but has always been highly rewarding for me. Having said that, the firm does operate an open-door policy. If you have questions or are struggling, there will always be colleagues there to lend a hand. Further, the culture at White & Case attracts highly motivated and entrepreneurial individuals, whom I feel grateful to work alongside.
Another challenge that is particularly unique to the role of a trainee occurs when changing seats. This is because you have settled into the practices of a certain seat and the working style of your supervisor, only to move to another department, where even the technology utilised can be different, and another period of adaptation begins. That said, aside from the obvious benefits of changings seats (such as experiencing four different practice areas), this is a great opportunity to develop interpersonal skills and build a strong network.

Can you debunk a myth about working in law

One myth in the legal industry is that lawyers at US law firms work longer hours than lawyers at, for example, the Magic Circle firms. I think it’s fair to say, at a certain level in international law, there is both an expectation and a passion to work hard, which naturally also extends to trainees at UK law firms.

What are your career ambitions

In terms of specific career plans, as I still have two seats left to experience, I’m keeping my mind open to each possibility. I’ve enjoyed my first two seats and grown so much from the training contract experience already, so I’m looking forward to where the next two seats will lead me. For now, my goal is to have the fullest experience I can, which involves taking every experience as it comes and giving each task the best I can.

As to more general career goals, I would love to be able to use Japanese in a business setting. Bilingual lawyers are able to carve out their careers in exciting ways at White & Case, so I’d love to be able to incorporate this into my work when my language skills are strong enough.

Why should future trainees consider applying to the firm

Future trainees should consider applying to White & Case if they are passionate about pursuing a career in international commercial law that involves work on complex cross-border transactions. I say this because trainees at the firm have constant exposure to its overseas offices and local counsel, and White & Case offers a guaranteed overseas seat.

White & Case will also appeal to future trainees who are enterprising and tenacious, as there is the opportunity to take on high levels of responsibility and to carve out their career’s direction. While trainees are encouraged to show initiative, the culture is friendly and open. On top of that, the yearly trainee intake is made up of fifty people (split evenly across the March and September start dates), so the firm offers a great peer network

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