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James Killick, Talking Head.

Partner, White and Case.

By Clare Beresford

The Laurence Simons Search Talking Head series continues with an interview with James Killick, Partner at leading international law firm, White and Case.

James Killick, Talking Head.
James Killick, Talking Head.

James is a litigator whose practice covers competition, pharmaceuticals, and international trade. He advises leading industry players in a broad range of business sectors, from information technology and semi-conductors to airlines and steel. Recognized as one of the leading lawyers in his field by The International Who's Who of Competition Lawyers & Economists 2020, James uses his extensive experience and formidable grasp of EU laws and procedures to help clients navigate complex strategic issues. 

In the competition field, James regularly advises companies under investigation by the Commission, notably in areas such as pharmaceuticals and standard setting, where IP and competition law overlap. He also advises merging parties and complainants under the EU Merger Regulation and has successfully defended several major cartel cases.

Clare Beresford, CEO at Laurence Simons Search catches up with James to discuss all things career, Brexit, challenges, and diversity related.

Clare Beresford (CB):  Thank you very much James for taking the time to talk to us today. Did you always want to be a lawyer?

James Killick (JK):   No, I started off studying science, and then changed to law after my first year.  I was talking to someone in the pub who said that I did not look like a scientist, and that I look more like a lawyer, and, whilst at the time I laughed about it, it obviously resonated as I changed my degree to become a lawyer!

CB: I know that your career is by no means complete, but what are you most proud of professionally?

JK: There have been a lot of interesting cases, but the one that stands out recently was a specific international trade case. President Trump decided to block the US steel market to imports in 2018, and Europe decided to put in place a steel safeguard to protect our market from the adverse consequences as obviously steel that was previously destined for the US would be looking for a home elsewhere. I represent the steel industry, and within three weeks of the case being opened my team had completed questionnaire responses from over 250 companies and produced a 900-page submission, and those three weeks were actually over the Easter holiday!  There were dozens of parties on the other side of the case, including numerous governments. Yet within three months we had safeguard measures in place covering the entire European steel industry, designed to protect the European steel industry and to keep over 300,000 people in their jobs, and I am very proud of this. Safeguard cases come only once each decade, so it was definitely a once in a generation moment.

CB:  We know you have recently been busy advising clients trying to work out how to navigate changes from a legal and compliance perspective in relation to Brexit. Do you think there is anything that has been missed that we think is going to have some sort of impact in the future either from a European Union perspective, the UK perspective or even the global perspective?

JK: The rules for third country trade to the EU are complex but relatively clear.  The UK decided that it did not want to be part of the EU, so it loses all the benefits of membership.  So, the problem is rather that the advantages of membership were assumed. It is rather painful filling in customs declarations, and some of this is costly, but I think overall people should not have been so surprised. 

Now there are some very complex concepts which may not be fully understood, and that complexity might have surprised some people. For example, ‘’diagonal cumulation of origin’’, when you take a product from Europe, then you transform it in Britain, then you sell it back to Europe, is it still British in origin or is it European? How does that change if the British factor includes a part from China – or even if the original European part had Chinese content? The rules are rather complicated, and the net outcome can be that duties are payable, even when we have a basic free trade deal in place between the UK and EU.

CB: It has been interesting for us as a legal search business to see just how many law firms have been insistent that they need people to be office based, whilst some are offering complete flexibility to their employees.   One of the things that come up in conversation is how to train your junior and trainee lawyers from home, have you found a solution for this?

JK: Hearing and learning from more experienced colleagues is a huge part of their training, you overhear things in the office, you are involved in more discussions, you can see how people act, or react, to situations.  It is so much more effective to talk things through face to face than to do an email or by Zoom.  I miss the wandering through the corridors to discuss issues, see who is doing what task, and to find someone who is able to help me on a specific task.  It is not the same just relying on an Excel chart with availability.  I do feel for those that we hired in March 2020; they did not get the chance to meet the people that they work with face to face. It has been harder for them to make friends and to build their network, though we have tried to make sure they have had the same support.

When this pandemic is over, I would love to see people back in the office, though maybe not for 100% of the time, we have always been relatively flexible, but I would love to exchange ideas more with my colleagues, and even to talk about family, friends, pets, eat their biscuits and so on! Being human we seek human contact; some normality would be great. 

CB: Any advice you would give to yourself as a junior lawyer? 

JK: Definitely, I would say that it is ok to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. Everyone makes mistakes, and you should not be afraid of stretching yourself.  I would also say do not be afraid to show personality.  To quote Pulp Fiction a little personality goes a long way.  You should be able to express yourself.  

And lastly, but most importantly, do try to have some fun along the way, life is long and hard enough so make sure you leave time to also enjoy yourself.

CB: How do you see law firms adapting to using artificial intelligence?

JK: It will help in more manual repetition in documents, for example, seeing if they are the same, highlighting the differences, and also for contracts. Some of the technology available is incredible, where you can just populate some information and it completes the documentation.  Law firms need to be open to this as a generator of efficiency.

On the other hand, I think there are some areas where artificial intelligence will not play a big role – at least for now.  For example, in some types of litigation.  If I am arguing a case, it is important that it is presented well, which is based on experience, so it is not obvious that AI could help in that instance. Equally, if when negotiating a deal, you have to find a way that both your client and the other parties are happy, again a trickier thing for AI to support.

CB: We are consistently hearing from general counsels that ESG is dominating their agendas, regardless of sector or discipline, plus diversity and inclusion initiatives.  Are you seeing this reflected in your workplace?

JK:   Diversity has been an important issue for many years, but it is changing. The problem that everyone was talking about when I started was that there were not enough women in the top levels of most law firms. As a firm, we took steps to address that, such that half the partners I work with in Brussels today are women.  We have also been working on addressing all the other elements of diversity, and the firm has won a number of awards for its work. But the task for the profession as a whole is a big one. Law firms need to continue to work to be fully reflective of society as a whole.  

CB: You should rightly be proud of the work that you have done in your firm regarding diversity and inclusion.  Thank you, James, for your insight and thoughts, it has been an absolute pleasure chatting to you.