Dig out your passport and grab that suitcase because White & Case trainees are guaranteed a seat abroad.
“If you want to operate as a truly global law firm, why not start with your trainees?” White & Case's graduate resourcing and development manager Christina Churchman asks. “It can only be of benefit for trainees and the firm if you start building a global network from as early as six months into your time here.” That's the rationale behind White & Case's guarantee to send all its trainees abroad for six months to one of the firm's international offices. “Going abroad is a brilliant experience to have,” trainees enthused, with one adding: “You'd never get the chance to work abroad so early on in your career in another industry.”
Thirty nine offices make up the firm's international network. Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Brussels, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague, Singapore, Tokyo and the current destinations which trainees can head to. Rookies usually jet off in their third or fourth seat although the decision where to go is made somewhat earlier on. “We discuss with HR where we'd like to go and if there are any clashes they pull names out of a hat to decide who goes where,” said a trainee. “It's the fairest way to do it.”
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Trainees get firm-paid flights, luxurious accommodation and a base from which to travel the far-flung regions of the globe – so it stands to reason that there must be some serious benefits for the firm to make the cost of sending all those trainees abroad worthwhile.
“We want junior lawyers with a global mindset who can operate in different jurisdictions and cultures and understand the subtle distinctions between them.”
Graduate recruitment partner Gareth Eagles explains: “Almost all major businesses – and almost everything they do – demand an international outlook. And they want lawyers who can deliver that seamlessly through a single point of contact.” Christina Churchman elaborates: “We want junior lawyers with a global mindset who can operate in different jurisdictions and cultures and understand the subtle distinctions between them.” Case in point, one trainee who'd been based in Moscow recalled: “It's very different to London in terms of the way clients communicate with their lawyer; a lot is done face-to-face rather than by email or teleconference.”
We heard that over in Abu Dhabi “no two deals are ever the same because the regulatory requirements are less strict than in London; that's taught me loads about commercial law and the importance of looking at matters from more than just a legal perspective.” White & Case trainees in the UAE are likely to be immersed in project finance or corporate matters. The former group handles a large number of energy projects while over on the corporate side, the team advises clients such as banks, private equity houses and sovereign wealth funds on domestic and cross-border M&A and joint ventures. “I've worked on a number of joint ventures between public entities and private individuals,” said one trainee. “In fact we do quite a lot of private client work advising wealthy individuals who want to establish new companies or invest in existing ones.”
The opportunity to work at White & Case's headquarters in New York is also regularly on offer. A stint here could see trainees shacking up with the capital markets team to work on senior note sales or IPOs, with clients including banking giants like Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. There's also the chance for trainees to slot into the banking group, where the team has a particular focus on syndicated lending and leveraged acquisition finance. All that finance work may sound pretty similar to what White & Case does in London, but don't expect the experience in the Big Apple to be the same as in the UK. “It's very different,” one trainee told us. “My supervisor sits on a different floor and I check in with him maybe once a day or every two days. I'm treated more like a first-year associate, which will help make me ready to be an independent lawyer on qualification. I'm also learning how to work in a high-pressure atmosphere.” Another New York secondee commented: “I was given quite a bit of free rein and got the chance to contact clients directly. I also got to work for some of the biggest players in the firm including our global head of capital markets.”
But don't be afraid that you'll be left out on a limb or overburdened with work when you're abroad. Churchman is keen to point out: “We stay in regular contact with our trainees when they're overseas and we ask them to send us a weekly report so we can monitor the type of work they are involved in and prevent trainees from having either a lack of, or too much, work.”
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Seats in capital markets, arbitration and asset finance are all on offer in Paris but regardless of which teams you're assigned to, “you're essentially treated like an associate – that's tough but also really cool. One person I work with didn't even know I was a trainee to begin with!” A different source elaborated: “I'm handling work I won't see in London for another couple of years and running deals on my own with support from my supervisor. That significantly accelerated my development.” Another commented: “In Paris the business and legal world is much smaller than in London. That makes it easier to build up personal relationships with clients.”
“Our trainees come back not only with an international outlook but also with contacts around the world."
And building up relationships abroad is the name of the game. According to Christina Churchman, the exposure secondees will get to all those lawyers in White & Case's foreign offices means “there are more people trainees can pick up the phone to if they need support, guidance or help answering queries,” She adds: “Our trainees come back not only with an international outlook but also with contacts around the world who they can call on later in their career.”
And you don't just build up contacts with lawyers abroad. Many of the cities where White & Case seconds its trainees have significant cohorts of English trainees. “We frequently socialise together, which is a brilliant networking opportunity,” noted one trainee abroad. “When I return to London and qualify as a junior associate, it's likely that we may find ourselves working on different sides of a deal. So having got to know each while abroad will be a great bonus.”
Making professional contact isn't the only skill that's developed abroad. Churchman says: “Trainees definitely return to us with higher levels of confidence in their abilities. I think several surprise themselves with the level of work they take on. Our overseas offices are often smaller than London so trainees are much more likely to be able to take the lead on aspects of a deal than they would in the UK.” It's worth mentioning that – in certain locations – if a trainee speaks the local language, further experiences are likely to arise. One bilingual source in Tokyo told of their time working in project and asset finance: “The majority of my work was in English but I was able to help out with the Japanese elements of the deal and liaise with local counsel in that language.”
There's plenty of scope for ratcheting up responsibility levels in Singapore too. Churchman says: “The office does not have its own trainees, so lawyers there rely on ours as an invaluable resource.” One source in Singapore had this to say: “It can be quite a culture shock: the distinctions that normally exist between associates and trainees fall away and more is expected of me.” Trainees get to do much more than bundling and bibling, including drafting meatier documents like contracts and agreements. The office usually hosts four London trainees who focus on corporate/M&A, project finance or capital markets but “as it's a small office you get to work with other teams too.” Trainees are likely to see a number of cross-border matters related to jurisdictions like Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Graduate recruitment partner Gareth Eagles gives his final thoughts on the opportunities trainees get abroad: “Our people want to get out there and see the world. We want to help them do that while at the same time stamping 'I’m a global lawyer' into their DNA at an early stage so that they develop into the senior lawyers we need. We were the first major international firm to guarantee an overseas seat to all trainees, and even today very few of our competitors have the vision to make the same offer.”
In an increasingly international market jetting off for an overseas secondment exposes White & Case's trainees to the different markets and cultures in which their firm operates and helps establish valuable global connections. Interested? Then check out our True Picture feature on White & Case.