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Advice to my younger self
Johannesburg partner Craig Atkinson

September 2022: Craig Atkinson is a partner in White & Case's Global Mergers & Acquisitions Group in Johannesburg. He looks back at his career to date and shares what he's discovered along the way.

What sets White & Case apart is that we're a truly global law firm in South Africa
There are many great domestic firms, but if you want to work on substantial, international work—not just the local elements of international deals—then you do need the kind of global platform that White & Case offers. That's why I came here in 2018 to set up the Firm's corporate M&A team.

Our lawyers can expect to live and work around the world
Associates frequently go on secondments to other offices (often London or Dubai), and there are always opportunities to get staffed on deals around the world. Having said that, you can do international work without leaving South Africa. I've just taken my English law exams so that we can run matters end-to-end from here.

Your colleagues are your clients
That's the essence of teamwork. It really matters to me that any work coming from this office is of the same high standard of our colleagues in any other jurisdiction. Ultimately, we're all on the same team.

Diversity is especially important to us in South Africa
Given our history, it's something that's always at the forefront of our thinking. It's important to acknowledge that not everyone has the same starting point, and making sure that people with different backgrounds and different views are given a fair and equal chance to succeed. We use "blind recruitment" processes, which helps us identify the greatest and most diverse pool of candidates.

"Why White & Case?": The most important question
When we interview candidates, what I want to know most of all is why they want to come to this firm over any other. My top interview advice is to do your homework, learn about the Firm and understand where a career here could take you.

Focusing on the quality of my work was something I did well as a young lawyer
As an articled clerk, I looked at my seniors, anyone that I was working for, and my focus was on making that person's life easier. Ultimately, that meant the quality of my work product.

This is a market where you're expected to hustle for work
In some of our offices, big teams are set up to serve large, longstanding clients. In Johannesburg, we're still very hungry to grow. I think that impacts how we approach business development and how we see the potential that's there. Working here is always exciting and dynamic.

Retain the ability to take a critical look at where your career is going
You should know where you fit in strategically at certain points in your career. When do you start building your own brand, building the relationships that you need? At some stage, you have to transition from just executing well on other people's deals.

Being honest is part of how I pay it forward
I'm always honest with the people that I work with. When I'm giving feedback on a piece of work, I'm also talking to them about the bigger picture. That means professionally—the context of the work they're doing—but also personally—how they're developing and growing.

You can't only have work in your life
Sure, sometimes we work hard and put in long hours. But you absolutely need other things going on in your life apart from work. There's always time for a something else at the weekend, even if it's just planning trips or activities to look forward to when you can take some proper time off. I make a point of checking in with my team to make sure that they keep that in mind. You're never going to build a team that's sustainable in the long run without people that are happy and achieve all their goals.

As a mentor, I think about the support I'd like for my own children
How would I want a future boss to treat my own son and daughter? That's something I always have in mind as a boss and as a mentor. As well as providing useful guidance and practical support, it's also about being there and being someone that people feel they can talk to.