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“Find a team that’s a good match for your personality and interests”

June 2021: Transactional law or litigator? As a law student, it can be challenging to work out what kind of lawyer you want to be. Second-year Miami associate Helena Buitrago explains her own journey.

"During law school, I was drawn to transactional work, but I also considered litigation. There are plenty of ways for students to explore what transactional work entails: signing up for transactional clinics at your school, choosing relevant classes, or attending lunch talks with experienced speakers," Helena explains.

Finding the right fit

So, do aspiring lawyers need to be certain of their path before they start at a firm? Not according to Helena: "One thing that you don't necessarily understand as a student is that different practice groups, even teams, have diverse cultures. So, although it's very important to feel that your firm is a good fit from a broad workplace culture perspective, ultimately you also want to find a team that's a good match for your personality and interests."

Advice for future summer associates

What advice does she have for students making the transition from the classroom to a summer associate program? "In class, you can explore a topic for hours and really expand your research in all directions, but in your professional life it is important to manage client expectations and timelines. One of the best things that you can do when given a task is to ask your supervisor how long they expect you to spend on it and who you can go to if you have questions."

She adds, "As you become more experienced, you can tap into your own network across the Firm, for example, to see if anyone has precedent you can work from or could share an article or research that could help." How does Helena think that you can go about building such a network? "Know that people, especially at White & Case, are generally very happy to talk to you. So, if you send an email asking them for a coffee or a short video call, they will no doubt be willing to answer your questions or connect you with someone else that can."

Embrace feedback and define your own success

She also has advice on how to manage the steep learning curve of a summer associate or junior associate. "Embrace constructive feedback. Ask your supervisor if they can take a few minutes to go through their edits or changes with you. Also, find ways to decompress from work. I like to de-stress by exercising—I even got my team to join me at Barry's Bootcamp occasionally!"

Finally, Helena reflects on some great advice that has stuck with her: "Define success on your own terms. For me, that includes constantly learning and growing."

Following an interest in cross-border law

Helena explains that it was her own experience as a White & Case 1L summer associate that opened her eyes to the challenges and opportunities of cross-border law. "Since joining the Firm, I've had the chance to work in Paris, and I've also gone on secondment to a major client." At the Paris office, she had a unique opportunity to learn about Project Finance deals in Africa, whereas most of her work in Miami involves Latin America.

Her work enables her to make the most of her Colombian heritage, something that Helena says is particularly important to her. "Being able to talk to our clients or local counsel in their own language, analyze documents in Spanish and draw on my own knowledge of the culture and politics is really valuable."