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London trainee Alexis Nicholas

Alexis Nicholas' experience studying abroad motivated her to find a law firm that could offer her an international experience. Here's the story of her time as a London trainee to date.

Why did you choose White & Case?

White & Case really stood out to me as the only firm to guarantee a secondment abroad. The Firm as a whole really promotes an international outlook, and there are also opportunities after qualification in different departments to be seconded to overseas offices for varying periods of time, as well as more traditional client secondments.

When I was looking into firms, I had recently returned from a semester abroad to Singapore as part of my degree, and so had just experienced how much you grow and learn as an individual from living and working overseas. 

Having had experience of a number of open days and assessment days, my assessment day with White & Case was the only one that encouraged a friendly environment; there was none of the competitive tension between applicants that I had experienced elsewhere, and I genuinely had an enjoyable day. It was important to me that the firm I trained at promoted cooperation and support between trainees, as you really need each other as colleagues and friends. 

We are an international Firm – how do you experience this in your work and interaction with colleagues around the world?

With the work, there are often multiple countries involved in a matter. The parties in a transaction are often also based overseas, and sometimes other local counsel are involved as well. 

The office is nothing but international. Colleagues are from all over—and that goes for both legal and non-legal staff. There is a great sense that everyone brings something different and the office simply reflects how cosmopolitan London as a city is. This even flows down to the mix of fantastic international cuisine served in the office canteen!

“There is a great sense that everyone brings something different”

Tell us about some of the matters that you have worked on.

The team I have been in specialises in collateral loan obligations, so I've been able to get very involved in a number of these matters, as I get to work with every member of the team, who are usually at different stages in the process. This, coupled with the fact that each CLO takes about two months to complete, means I've had the opportunity to work on every stage of the CLO process more than once —so you get to really know your stuff and improve dramatically over the course of six months. 

I've also been involved in some due diligence which was particularly interesting because I got to read the board minutes for a company based in Africa; you can really see how things can be done differently overseas and the different issues companies face around the world. 

What's the culture like in White & Case generally, and within your team in particular?

White & Case is genuinely a lovely place to work. As a trainee, you'll be set various tasks and given responsibilities with a few hours, days or weeks to complete them.

White & Case is really great at organising social events too, which really bring everyone together as a firm. Every quarter there are drinks for everyone in the London office, which are always really fun with a fantastic turnout. You get to see and speak to people you wouldn't usually meet, and just catch up with people you do know too. There is also the White & Case World Cup held every year in September. This brings everyone from all our overseas offices together in a different European city each year. You can go along and take part in the football, volleyball or just be a spectator. 

My team has been fantastic. They were all incredibly welcoming and patient to me coming in as a first-seater who didn't know the difference between a 'redline' and a 'blackline' (answer: they're the same thing), and they have really shown an interest in my personal development too. 

“My team has been fantastic”

What has been the highlight of your career with White & Case so far?

To name a few: I was invited to a few client meetings after I'd only been at the Firm a few weeks and so couldn't offer much, but the partner took me along for my own development anyway. 

I got to go to a brilliant client event playing tennis at Queen's Club, followed by dinner in the private room of the Ivy Chelsea Garden; and my team took up spare tickets to the cricket, so we got to enjoy the White & Case box at Lord's as a team bonding event.

White & Case lawyers are noted for being entrepreneurial – what does that mean in your experience?

I think mainly as a trainee that it is about using your initiative. It takes some getting used to, but you're not expected to just blindly follow orders. For example, once you know more about what a matter or deal involves, you can think for yourself about what is needed and, when checking a document, you can think more about what you did last time and if it applies.

No one says you have to create a start-up on the side, but there is scope for thinking more widely about the running of things and being creative about how to make your colleagues' lives easier—it's a common goal everyone is working towards. There are also opportunities for you to put yourself forward for various committee positions (for example, I sit on the Employee Committee and the Experience Team) which brings representatives from different departments together to discuss ways of improving the London office and the running of certain things.

We are a notably diverse firm – how does this enrich White & Case, in your view?

Diversity enriches not just the Firm, but the individuals working here too, in so many ways. A diverse firm also means there is something for everyone, ranging from international foods served in the canteen on a daily basis, to different sporting groups and social activities which appeal to different people! 

From a 'work' perspective, we are working on international, diverse matters and so you simply do a better job when you have a variety of different people with contrasting ideas, because you all bring something different and interesting to the team. All perspectives, opinions and suggestions are welcome. The world is made up of people who have all been brought up in different places in different ways, having had different experiences, and having different approaches and perspectives on things—White & Case reflects that through both the work we do and the people who are here. 

I've only recently started my second seat.

“Diversity enriches not just the Firm, but the individuals working here too.”

What formal training or professional development is available for trainees? 

When you first join as a trainee, there are three weeks of training. Then throughout your training contract, each department puts on various in-house training sessions as well, so you can learn about new aspects of that department in more detail. These are good opportunities to meet other members of your department, and to ask questions about the subject matter. In addition, there are formal training sessions on things like Professional Skills and Client Care, and Advocacy.

First-seaters also have lunch-and-learn sessions where lunch is put on for you and different members of each department come and give you a talk on what being a trainee is like in their respective departments. These are a great insight into the departments so you know what is on offer and what seats you might find interesting. It is also good to understand what each department in the Firm does generally, as inevitably you will be in contact with the Tax team or Banking at some point, and it broadens your understanding to learn what groups make up the Firm. 

How does White & Case differ from the other big London law firms?

You get the feeling that White & Case is really personal. You are far from one minor individual in a big machine here. Although the Firm is large and has a lot of people, each department really has their own culture, so you really bond with the people there and build relationships at a more personal level. 

From a trainee perspective, at White & Case you are not just one of 50 or 100 in an intake, as is the case in some big firms. There are rarely more than 25 in each intake so you really get to know each other well. The Graduate Resourcing and Development team do a fantastic job at making sure that there is a mix of first, second, and third-seaters in each department (fourth-seaters go abroad), so you also get to know people from other intakes as well.

What's your advice for anyone applying for a training contract at the Firm?

Think carefully about the type of career and law you want to pursue, and then check it matches with what is offered at the Firm. White & Case is very internationally minded, very diverse, with a large proportion of the work having a financial element. Take a look at how the Firm markets itself and what it promotes—if that seems in line with your interests and aspirations, then go for it! 

Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

That's a really hard one — I'm only coming into my second seat! I can safely say I'd still like to be at White & Case; the Firm has a great atmosphere and the people are so nice you can't really knock it —I think you'd be hard-pushed to find a more supportive environment. In five years' time I will (hopefully!) be just over three years qualified. I hope to have settled in a department where the work interests me and with a friendly team, taking on more and more responsibility and having finally settled into a routine of exercising before work (although I'm not hopeful about the last one!).

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