How to advance your career in the legal industry

Betty Q. Hixson

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

Practice area: Mergers and acquisitions.

Law school and year of graduation: University of Toronto, 2012.

Kristen Rohr/courtesy photo

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

Were you an associate at another firm before joining your present firm? I was a summer associate at Blakes, Cassels & Graydon in Toronto, which is where I’m from, but ultimately decided that White & Case offered a more compelling opportunity as a place to start my career.

What criteria did you use when deciding to join your current firm? I wanted to be at a New York law firm with a really strong corporate practice. I also wanted to join a firm with a culture that I felt I could excel in. White & Case’s global practice, which is a core part of the firm’s identity and the people it attracts, and its collegial culture were major selling points for me. I have an international background and felt I could be most successful at a firm like White & Case.

What’s the biggest surprise you experienced in becoming a partner? I made partner while everyone was working fully remotely in the pandemic. While every day followed a similar pandemic-driven pattern, somehow the nature of my work and professional relationships still shifted materially despite the fact that everything else was completely unchanged. Despite the unusual circumstances of the past couple of years, the firm has done a tremendous job at supporting our people, including through transitions such as the shift to making partner. From an extensive virtual new partner training program to considerable formal and informal mentorships, the firm provided a level of support that really helped me and I’m sure many of us who made partner in the last couple of years be successful from the outset.

What do you think was the deciding point for the firm in making you a partner? It is hard to say, but I have been fortunate to have been very busy over the course of my career, which has allowed me to get exposure to a broad range of work, including deals on behalf of public, private, strategic, sovereign wealth and private equity clients across a variety of industries and regions. I think having a diverse skill set has allowed me to support our clients and practice group as our business needs constantly evolve, making it possible for me to have the opportunity to become a partner when I did.

What’s the key to successful business development in your opinion and how do you grow professionally while everyone is navigating a hybrid work system? I think the best way to develop business is to do the best job possible for your clients, which is something that has not really changed that much with hybrid work. If you work hard for existing clients and on opportunities to pitch new clients, they feel prioritized, which I think is an effective way to stay in demand and build business regardless of the current work system.

Who had the greatest influence in your career that helped propel you to partner? I have been fortunate to have many mentors over the course of my time at White & Case who have helped me evolve as a lawyer and as a person over the years. John Reiss, the global head of the M&A practice at White & Case, gave me countless opportunities to see how incredibly intellectually challenging and rewarding our vocation as lawyers can be, particularly as a junior lawyer when some of the work is not always all that exciting. He made sure I had a seat at the table when I was starting out and he both pushed me to be better and gave me many meaningful opportunities to grow. Without those experiences, I would not be a partner at White & Case.

What advice could you give an associate who wants to make partner? I think it’s important not to focus so much on the end goal of making partner and rather try to continually learn and challenge yourself on every deal so that you are constantly growing. I think if you have a growth mindset you can enjoy the job while getting better at it every day and you will ultimately have great opportunities, whether it be making partner or otherwise.

When it comes to career planning and navigating inside a law firm, in your opinion, what’s the most common mistake you see other attorneys making? Being an attorney in a big law firm is an exciting job in that there are infinite opportunities to grow and challenge yourself. The flip side of that is it can be difficult to calibrate your workflow so you are doing your best work in a way that is sustainable. I think it often takes too long for particularly junior attorneys to realize that this is a skill set they need to hone like any of the other more technical skills needed to be effective at our jobs.

What challenges did you overcome in your career path and what was the lesson learned? The biggest challenge for me is the mistake I just mentioned, which is having to learn how to manage myself so that I can grow as quickly as possible over a long period of time without having to interrupt my development because of burnout. It was something I struggled with as a junior lawyer, and I’m committed to helping my teammates with this challenge where I can, as it can be a real hurdle to talent retention.

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

What impact would you like to have on the legal industry as a whole? That is a tall order, but in my own way I would like to contribute to the next generation of lawyers doing better work by supporting diverse teams and talent that are better equipped to tackle complicated challenges and serve our clients.

What lessons, if any, did you learn in 2020/2021 (the COVID years)? I learned how important human connections are to me when we went into quarantine in 2020. I really enjoy working in teams and so I had to learn to be more deliberate about team building, mentorship and my interactions with others within and outside of the firm. With the hybrid work model seemingly here to stay, I think the lessons learned in the depths of COVID about how to stay engaged and work together will serve us all well as we embark on a new normal, which I suspect will be very different from what we remember from before the pandemic.

What key elements you would like to focus on for 2022. I would like to focus on team building as we enter this new phase of the pandemic, being flexible as the world changes and the nature of our work undoubtedly continues to evolve this year, and doing excellent work for our clients.

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