How to advance your career in the legal industry – Natural Self Esteem

Kristen Rohr, White & Case, New York, New York

Practice area: mergers and acquisitions.

Law degree and final year: University of Toronto, 2012.

Kristen Rohr/photo courtesy

How long have you been at the office? I joined the firm in 2011 as a Summer Associate and returned in October 2012 as a full-time Associate. I was an associate for eight years. I became a partner in 2020 (so the year wasn’t all bad!).

Were you an associate at another law firm before you joined your current law firm? I was an associate at Blakes, Cassels & Graydon in Toronto, where I’m from, for the summer, but ultimately decided that White & Case offered a more compelling opportunity to start my career.

What criteria did you use to decide to join your current company? I wanted to work at a New York law firm with a really strong corporate practice. I also wanted to join a company with a culture where I could excel. White & Case’s global practice, which is central to the firm’s identity, and the people it attracts and its collegial culture were key selling points for me. I come from an international background and felt that I could be most successful with a company like White & Case.

What was the biggest surprise you experienced when you became a partner? I became a partner while everyone was working completely remotely during the pandemic. Somehow, while each day followed a similar pandemic-related pattern, the nature of my work and professional relationships still changed significantly, even though everything else was completely unchanged. Despite the unusual circumstances of the past few years, the company has done an excellent job of supporting our employees, including through transitions such as moving to partner. From an extensive virtual training program for new partners to significant formal and informal mentorship, the firm provided a level of support that has really helped me and I’m sure many of us who have become partners over the last few years have benefited from were successful from the start.

In your opinion, what was the decisive point for the law firm to win you as a partner? It’s hard to say, but I’ve been fortunate to have had a very busy career which has allowed me to be exposed to a wide range of work, including doing business on behalf of public, private, strategic and government assets and private equity clients across a variety of industries and geographies. I think my diverse skill set has allowed me to support our clients and our practice group as our business needs continue to evolve, which allowed me to become a partner when I did.

What do you think is the key to successful business development and how do you continue to grow professionally while everyone is navigating a hybrid work system? I think the best way to develop business is to do the best possible work for your clients, which hasn’t really changed with hybrid work. Working hard for existing clients and on ways to bring new clients makes them feel prioritized, which I think is an effective way to stay in demand and build business regardless of the current work system.

Who was the biggest influence in your career that made you partner? I have been fortunate to have had many mentors throughout my time at White & Case who have helped me grow as a lawyer and as a person over the years. John Reiss, the global head of M&A practice at White & Case, gave me countless opportunities to see how incredibly intellectually challenging and rewarding our calling as attorneys can be, especially as a junior attorney when some of the work isn’t always that exciting . He made sure I had a seat at the table when I started and he pushed me to get better and gave me many meaningful opportunities to grow. Without this experience I would not be a partner at White & Case.

What advice can you give to an employee who wants to become a partner? I think it’s important to not focus so much on the end goal of becoming an affiliate and instead try to continuously learn and challenge yourself with every deal so that you keep growing. I think if you have a growth mindset you can enjoy the job while getting better every day and you will ultimately have great opportunities, be it as a partner or otherwise.

What do you think is the most common mistake other attorneys make when it comes to career planning and navigating a law firm? Being a lawyer in a major law firm is an exciting job as there are endless opportunities to develop and challenge. The downside to this is that it can be difficult to calibrate your workflow to do your best work in a sustainable manner. I think it often takes too long for especially young lawyers to realize that they need to hone these skills like any other more technical skill required to be effective in our jobs.

What challenges have you overcome on your career path and what have you learned from them? The biggest challenge for me is the aforementioned mistake of having to learn to manage myself in such a way that I can grow as quickly as possible over a long period of time without having to interrupt my development due to burnout. As a junior attorney I struggled with this and I strive to help my teammates with this challenge where I can as it can be a real hurdle for talent retention.

Knowing what you know now about your career path, what advice would you give your younger self? For a long time I was really impatient to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible, so it took me a while to realize that our careers are long and patience really is a virtue (which I don’t really have). I wish I could tell my younger self to behave a little better, but then again it’s hard to change who you are and I can’t say I could do anything differently if I traveled back in time would!

What impact would you like to have on the legal industry as a whole? It’s a tall order, but in my own way, I want to help the next generation of lawyers do better work by empowering diverse teams and talent who are better equipped to solve complicated challenges and serve our clients.

What lessons, if any, have you learned in 2020/2021 (the COVID years)? Going into quarantine in 2020 taught me how important human connections are to me. I really enjoy working in teams and therefore had to learn to be more aware of team building, mentoring and my dealings with others inside and outside the company. With the hybrid working model seemingly here to stay, I think the lessons we’ve learned in the depths of COVID about staying engaged and collaborating will serve us all well as we embark on a new normal that I’m about to begin suspect it will be very different from what we remember before the pandemic.

What key elements would you like to focus on for 2022? As we enter this new phase of the pandemic, I want to focus on team building, be flexible as the world changes and the nature of our work will undoubtedly evolve this year, and do great work for our clients.

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