Lessons I Learned in Law

Dina White on chasing the work you love

July 06, 2023 Heriot Brown Season 5 Episode 3
Lessons I Learned in Law
Dina White on chasing the work you love
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Lessons I Learned in Law, Scott Brown speaks to Dina White. Dina is General Counsel at Zodia Markets, where she leads the Legal function, including providing guidance and direction on strategic, governance and risk issues. Prior to her current role, Dina spent much of her career at Bank of New York Mellon and U.S. Bancorp, focusing on mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring, corporate trustee work and complex financial products. 

Dina shares the three lessons she has learned in law including:

·      Lawyers have a privilege and its our duty to give back to society. 

·      Do the work you love, but don’t ignore the boring parts of the job!

·      Communication and connection are key to our work and our wellbeing. 

Dina discusses the powerful impact that lawyers can have on society, supporting people in need and providing access to the law to those who need it most. To this end, she describes how rewarding she found some of the pro-bono work that she’s carried out throughout her career.

Dina writes regularly on LinkedIn about developments in the world of digital assets, and was named one of Financial News’ Twenty Most Influential Women in Crypto. If that’s a subject you’re interested in, definitely give her a follow on LinkedIn.


Presented by Scott Brown of Heriot Brown Legal Recruitment.  

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This episode of Lessons I Learned in Law is brought to you by Beamery.

Beamery is an AI-powered talent platform, designed to hire candidates faster, develop the skills of your workforce, and increase employee retention.

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Scott Brown  (0:01)  

Hi, welcome to Lessons I Learned in Law, the leading legal podcast brought to you by Heriot Brown In-House Legal Recruitment. On each episode of the podcast, I sit down with a leading mind from the legal profession and hear about their three lessons that they've learned throughout their legal career that I've had an impact on and helped them to get to the position that they're in at the moment. So I'm delighted today to be joined by Dina White. Scott, great to be here. Thank you for joining me. Dina is General Counsel at Zodia Markets, which is a digital assets trading platform, really keen to find out more around Zodia Markets and the work that you're doing there. Dina is very active on LinkedIn in terms of sharing our thoughts around what is going on within crypto, digital assets and the regulation of that space, I really recommend giving her a follow up if that's an area of interest. But Dina's career started in the magic circle in a law firm in the debt and capital markets team at Clifford chance and then has held a number of positions in house within the banking space and financial services, which I'm hoping that we'll hear a lot more around in our conversation. Thank you for coming in to Beamery's lovely office. What you thinking of the studio?


Dina White  (1:16)  

This is amazing. I haven't been in a recording studio like this. And it's yeah, it's very exciting to be here.


Scott Brown  (1:21)  

It's cool. We'll jump in. Do you know if you don't mind to hear first lesson, please, if you could share that?


Dina White  (1:26)  

Sure. So my first lesson is nothing to do with digital assets. But it's that lawyers have a privilege, and it's our duty to give back to society. So as lawyers, we're not only highly educated, but we have a rare skill. We know the law and we're qualified to practice it. So when I was at Clifford chance, I did a three month secondment to a law centre called law for all that was part of my litigation training seat, where I worked on Social Security and employment law cases. I will just give you one example. So there was a lady I was representing in the employment tribunal. And she had systematically been underpaid by her employers, they had miscalculated her holiday pay and various other calculations. So I helped talk through the case with her presented it at the tribunal, and the judge agreed and awarded her than that last pay. And this is just one example where it was, you know, one one person working for a small hairdressing business. And I was able to help her get what she was entitled to. And it's just one example of a time when I was able to use my legal skills to help someone who wasn't always able to access it. And I learned just how important these services are to society, because it just one person wanting to fight for what is rightfully due to them. She needed someone to argue her case. I then later started working for BMI Mellon, where I was regularly volunteering at the Employment Law Clinic at Toynbee Hall, and also at the forum filling clinic at Community Links legal advice centre, which was in Canning Town in East London. And that was a very interesting law clinic because it was staffed by volunteers from Hogan Lovells law firm and also Bank of New York Mellon. But they weren't actually legal cases we were helping with there was actually benefits forms. But these forms can be so complex, even for lawyers, that it's very difficult for the people who are entitled to receive something from them to for them to be able to complete it. So one example there was a man who came in, he had lost his job, he was working in a supermarket, but he had epilepsy. And on more than one occasion, he had had an epileptic fit in front of the customers. And it was awkward and embarrassing for the customers and for him, and eventually, he had to leave his job. And he wasn't even able to complete basic tasks at home. He showed me his hand, which was covered in Burns from where he had a fit while he was cooking. And he needed to apply for certain benefits, Disability Living Allowance and other things and I was able to help him. And again, it's just the small ways in which we can help people to what they're entitled to.


Scott Brown  (4:05)  

Yeah. Was that a rolling secondment that they had then? And


Dina White  (4:09)  

it was and I think I've heard one of your previous guests unexpected? Yeah. I was wondering as well. Same. Yeah. Same saying. It is just so impactful. Yeah. I think probably anyone who does that secondment gained something huge out of it. And you know, credit to Clifford chance for giving us that opportunity. Yeah,


Scott Brown  4:26  

absolutely. And I'm sure it Yeah, anyone that goes on maxicom and probably sees the firm in a bit of a different light as well, in terms of giving back. So it's really important, I guess, witnessing it and seeing it firsthand is the key measurement to that. Was that something you actively sought out? There was a seat?


Dina White  (4:41)  

Yeah, it's interesting as a seat, yes. But also, one of the reasons I chose to train at Clifford chance is because I knew someone who was working as a lawyer there, right. And she was doing pro bono work from that for the National Autistic Society. I did some work there as well for them. And previously, I just hadn't been aware of how these big international law firms Help law firms were also helping various members of society in so many ways on a pro bono on a free basis. Yeah. And I just found that really attractive because I wanted something more out of my career than just a corporate law future.


Scott Brown  (5:14)  

And for in House lawyers, how can they? Or how have you managed to how have you maintained or continued to do that and that type of work? Is it something that you've sought out yourself? Absolutely, yes,


Dina White  (5:25)  

it's been a bit more challenging in my current role, because it's more of a startup, that typically in house legal teams will partner with a law firm, and a law firm will run the programme usually, and then the the in house lawyers will will join up with them. So usually, they'll sort of take their panel firms or wherever they're working with, and work together on a project. And so do your markets where I work now is a subsidiary of Standard Chartered. So I've been working with them to try and find the right project to partner with them on.


Scott Brown  (5:51)  

Is there an area you're particularly interested in and you feel that you feel needs additional support?


Dina White  (5:56)  

Well, the two areas I've worked in the most, which is Social Security and employment law. There's a huge need there. There's a huge need across a range of areas. But I'm more comfortable with Harriet that I really have experienced in but there are, there are so many opportunities. Yeah, I won't list them all now, but there are many for anyone who wants to get involved. There. Is that nice for you, though.


Scott Brown  (6:16)  

Cool. What was the impact, like with the individuals that were the hairdresser there on the employment tribunal that you added through but the epilepsy case? What's the feedback generally, from individuals who they view the law differently when you're having that impact?


Dina White  (6:30)  

Yeah, I mean, I think probably a lot of people have a view as lawyers as in their ivory tower, or some other greedy or selfish or just too involved in the corporate world. But it's just not the case. I mean, maybe if the case for some, but once they experience the help that they receive, and even the time taken to listen to them to go through their sort of bag full of papers and documents sometimes, and to listen to their story, and to craft that story into a case or completing a form. Firstly, they're immensely grateful just to be heard, and taken seriously. And secondly, to have that access to the law. There's an amazing quote from John Locke that I love, which is where there is no law, there is no freedom. That means the freedom to have the rights that we're entitled to. But a huge proportion of the population just don't have that access to that freedom. So helping them on their way, is just an immense benefit to them and to us. And I think it makes us better lawyers.


Scott Brown  (7:32)  

Yeah. What have you learned out of that pro bono work that's helped in the corporate environment.


Dina White  (7:37)  

I mean, firstly, I've learned that lawyers do have this privilege that just anyone who isn't a lawyer or hasn't done an ordinary doesn't have, which is the ability to advise on legal aspects of issues in society. But it's definitely made me a better lawyer, it's made me a better listener. It's exposed me to parts of society that I wouldn't otherwise have had exposure to. And it's taught me how to present a case. And overall, it's just made me happier to be able to contribute to society, and it's made me think more highly of the legal profession.


Scott Brown  (8:17)  

So we'll move on to lesson two future.


Dina White  (8:20)  

So Lesson Two is do the work you love, but don't ignore the boring parts of the job. So I'll talk about the first part first, I've always followed what I love doing. And by that I don't necessarily mean following your passion in general. I mean, I have certain hobbies. I like taking photographs, for example, but I didn't want to make a career out of that. But But following what you love doing in your career, I think you'll never go wrong. So I trained at Clifford chance because I wanted to work in financial and corporate law. I worked in the debt and equity capital markets team for six years off to qualification. And I really enjoyed that. Yeah, it was exciting. It was fun. I loved it. After that, I felt that I wanted to see more from the client side. So I went to work for Bank of New York Mellon, where I got to see the same types of transactions, but from the client perspective, and I was working in a business role. And then after a couple of years, I wanted to I didn't want to be siloed into one part of the business. So again, sort of followed what I was interested in at the time, which was broadening out my role to see every part of being my melons business. And I went to work in mergers and acquisitions, legal team, right. So, you know, I've always followed what I enjoy doing. Now, there was a project when I was in that role, that I was asked to look after which it is led me really to where I am in my role now. So that was a project or consortium project called utility settlement coin. And it was in five institutions, which has now grown to 17 institutional shareholders and they were built Doing a digital asset backed by central bank money for the settlement of securities transactions. And there are lots of other use cases. But that was one they were looking at initially. And I just found this incredibly exciting, because I just come from business role where I was literally settling transactions as well as negotiating them and sort of doing the legal work. But I could see how manual how time intensive process driven that was, and the prospect of having a future financial services infrastructure, whereby you could have digital assets that settle instantaneously interoperable across multiple platforms and multiple currencies. That was just very exciting to me.


Scott Brown  (10:47)  

Yeah. Awesome. And that led you to your current role. It did,


Dina White  (10:51)  

it did not directly. So I had a friend asked me to join him in his team at US Bank, right, where I was working on collateralized loan obligations and other structured finance transactions. And, you know, I knew at the time that I wanted to work in blockchain and digital assets, but I thought this would give me some experience in more complex financial products, which would then be useful to me later on, right when they are digitalized. tokenized. So I'm very happy. Yeah. Did that roll?


Scott Brown  (11:19)  

Yeah. And what was the business rule? So that a non a non legal position?


Dina White  (11:24)  

That was also business role? Yes. It's interesting that and the and the business role at BMO Mellon was quite legally focused. So I was reviewing deals and sort of running those deals, but also making sure that the operational side was happening as it should.


Scott Brown  (11:39)  

A lot of people we speak to, and people in our network want that transition out of purely opposition. How did that come around? Was it something you saw out or?


Dina White  (11:48)  

No, really, both of them were former colleagues, so so the person who brought me into BMO Mellon was actually another lawyer who I'd worked with at Clifford chance. I bumped into him somewhere, and he said, Oh, we're looking for some of this role. So it was not planned. I was not planning to go into business role. And the same thing at US Bank as well, a former colleague from BMO Mellon asked me to join. But you know, brings me back to my point, it was something I was interested in, I was open to the opportunity. And it's a principle I always follow, which is, if you're doing what you love, you're more likely to do a great job, because you'll be interested in it will be passionate about it. And that just reflects into your work. That does bring me to the other side of this lesson, which is don't forget the boring parts of the job. It's very easy. And I'm guilty of this myself at times of focusing on the parts of the job that you love. So for me, it's researching different aspects of the digital assets of blockchain technology, or the regulatory environment. It's easy to forget to look at, you know, timesheets, or your documents Management System, or all that kind of admin or if you hate reviewing commercial contracts, and maybe it's that and no one can get away from it doesn't matter how senior you may get, you know, how much you delegate or how much you try to avoid it, every job will have parts of the job you hate, or you just dislike and sort of put off. But if you do that, if you don't actually attend to those, I think you'll find you'll be out of a job quite quickly. 


Scott Brown  (13:21)  

Luckily, I've never, never ever been that bored.


Dina White  (13:23)  

But I find sort of making a point of making sure that you do things and prioritising them will make your life a lot easier and make you enjoy the rest of the job. Much more.


Scott Brown  (13:33)  

Any tips on how to do that I'm a massive procrastinator of stuff that doesn't give me energy and doing them and put them off and delay them or then half hours. But


Dina White  (13:44)  

exactly, exactly. And as I said, I think we've all been there. My tip is to take a day or an hour, whatever is a period of time, where you focus on those things, and you do not do anything else. You don't do your deep work, you don't do your creative work. And you focus on those things sometimes first, because then you get them out the way let's say it's Monday, okay, Monday, you're just gonna dedicate to all those tasks that you do not like doing. Yeah. Then by Tuesday and Wednesday, you've then freed up your calendar to do that deep creative work. And a it's done. And be you don't have that kind of guilt and anxiety hanging over you. And you can sort of allow your mind to freely focus on the things that you want to Yeah, cool.


Scott Brown  (14:27)  

reassuring, I think for for well, maybe for junior lawyers to know that there's always something about everyone's job that isn't 100% And you'd rather rather not be doing that. So that's reassuring and very good advice. So you touched upon stuff outside of work in terms of passions, what keeps you busy outside of work in crypto.


Dina White  (14:46)  

What's my pattern? Well, I do love running. Yeah, boxing and running. Okay. I haven't done boxing for a while but that was my absolute favourite sport when when I did it, and I love I'm for two reasons. I also do other things. But I love those for two reasons. similar but different. So for boxing, it's something you have to focus on 100%. Right. And I is probably many lawyers are, I'm guilty of sort of thinking about things maybe too much or sort of pondering what problems or life issues when you're boxing, if you don't focus on your present in it, you can get hit in the face, which happened to me once in a kickboxing class. And it's actually very refreshing as well as the physical exercise. Just take yourself out of the day to day and allow yourself to focus on something completely different. And running I love for similar but opposite reason, when I'm running, I just let my thoughts flow freely. And music is very important to me. I don't play music, but I listen to music a lot. So you know, putting the headphones on turning the music up and just running, letting my thoughts flow wherever, wherever they will use, again, just incredibly helpful. It's a really great way to relax and to and to think through.


Scott Brown  (15:59)  

Yeah, just as often as just sort out this stuff as well. Nice. How did you get into boxing?


Dina White  (16:04)  

That was actually when I was being my melon in Canary Wharf, the gym there, had boxing classes, and I just thought I'd try it out. And I realised this I love this and carried it through to the next year I was in and yeah, I recently checked out a boxing gym near my office. So me doing there as well


Scott Brown  (16:20)  

going for it. Yeah. Did some back in the day. But they had a white collar fight in Sydney, when I lived there. Yeah, I'll not go into detail


Dina White  (16:29)  

as to how I didn't get that far.


Scott Brown  (16:33)  

I've not done it since. But yeah, it's good. It's very therapeutic and hanging our bags. Great. And in terms of being a lawyer, was that something you always wanted to be?


Dina White  (16:44)  

No, not at all. I had no idea that I was going to be a lawyer. Yeah, not at all. So I studied English Language and Literature at university. And actually, before that, I had spent a year and a half studying Talmud, which is a key Jewish texts, which is a sort of oral tradition of learning, which has now been written down. So my interests were really in literature and art, right? Well, I take photographs as a hobby. And my first job out of university was was working with the thing that I love most, which is books, actually lived with with a couple of lawyers at university. And I just thought it was really boring. I had no idea. But while I was working in publishing, I was coming to the realisation that I wanted something more, I wasn't feeling fulfilled by it. And sort of having had lots of sort of thoughts and discussions, I realised that law would be my pathway into something more meaningful, where I could, at some point, give back to society. And we just sort of opened the scope of what I was able to do in a much broader way, right? And I think actually, studying Talmud and English literature has really, really helped me with that as well, because I knew that I loved the power of words, and what they mean, and arguing a point in a Socratic way. Yeah.


Scott Brown  (18:00)  

Yes, that touched on an intro often see your posts on LinkedIn around developments within crypto and within digital assets. Is that something you've taken up recently? And what's your key areas of focus?


Dina White  (18:14)  

Yeah, so right now I work for Zodia Markets, which is a digital assets exchange and brokerage, the only bank backed FCA registered trading venue. So it's it's majority owned by Standard Chartered Bank, minority owned by BC group, which is a leading digital asset and blockchain provider in Asia, right. And in this role, I get to do what I love the most right now, which is focused solely on digital assets and their trading. The reason I love this role so much is because I get to focus on what I enjoy so much. I enjoy that for two reasons for business and financial reason. This is where I see the future of money in financial services. It was something that was clear to me, when I started working in this space in 2016, I could just see a better, more seamless way of doing things. And I'm not sure which way that will go, whether it's crypto assets, whether it's stable coins, a central bank, digital currency, or all of them. But one thing I'm certain is that digital assets are a big part, if not the future of financial services and markets. And from a legal perspective, I also find it absolutely fascinating because you're getting back to first principles of what is money, what is property, what is security, I just find it interesting to get back to those first principles and really examine what we've assumed to be the case and where we extrapolate the future from there as it's developing.


Scott Brown  (19:40)  

Yeah, analysis, really cool area and huge developments. Do you see it going in one particular direction?


Dina White  (19:47)  

Right now it's really hard to tell I think the seas of opinion change. I mean, tokenization is very much talked about right now. There are at least 141 countries who are looking At Central Bank digital currencies. And in the private sector, there are hundreds, if not 1000s, of companies developing various protocols and types of digital assets and the way they're governed. So I think it's very difficult to tell right now, which way I will go. But as I said, it's just an area of huge interest.


Scott Brown  (20:29)  

Lesson three,


Dina White  (20:30)  

so Lesson three is that communication and connection are key to our work in our wellbeing. So those are really two lessons, but they're interconnected, because we are a social species. So if we take communication, first, I'm talking about three things really. The first is the way we listen to other people. And here I find a principle of a book that I, I absolutely love Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. So one of his lessons there is seek first to understand, then to be understood. And what that means is, when you're listening to someone, you should be actively listening. So listening for what you can learn from them, rather than than what you can tell them. And then when we communicate outwards to other people, we need to think about how we're communicating a message and who we're communicating to. So we may communicate a message differently, whether we're talking to our board to regulators, as opposed to a member of your team or someone in the operations team. So crafting the message in a way that's relevant to your audience. And in a way that gets your message across is absolutely key. And then putting those together the way we receive input from others and the way we output to them, once you combine them, we can then work together in a way that's mutually beneficial. Absolutely. And then connection. This is so important. And it's something that lawyers I think, have tended to ignore, sometimes to their detriment. There was a new study by the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy of a couple of weeks ago, talking about the epidemic of loneliness, and he was looking at the US, but I think it's equally relevant for the UK. And we are in living in a society now where we are less socially connected. And we are more lonely as a society. And I think this is particularly relevant for lawyers who have a tendency to work long hours, to sit in front of their laptops all day. And now that there is more remote working, there is less daily, regular social connection. This is really important for ourselves and for our jobs. Because firstly, social isolation and loneliness lead to at least a 2025 to 30% increase risk of premature deaths, and a multitude of health issues. But also, we become better lawyers when we connect with each other. So I'm a member of two brilliant legal communities, crafty counsel and tech DC, which are both looking at the in house legal community. And I find that when I've attended events, or spoken to other lawyers through these networks, and there are plenty of others as well, and other other ways in which I connect with people, it leaves me and then re energised, we have more connections, and we bring that back to our jobs. It brings a greater sense of wellbeing to us and we're more productive in our work.


Scott Brown  (23:30)  

Yeah, it's really important to leverage those relationships and what's the most you get out of the community and speaking to others and people in similar positions to yourself? What gives you that energy?


Dina White  (23:42)  

So I think it's learning from each other. And I mean, we joke sometimes about it being a form of group therapy. I mean, just knowing that there are others in a similar position to you facing similar issues, just helps immensely because sometimes, as lawyers, we do feel quite alone. Hmm.


Scott Brown  (24:00)  

The Stephen Covey book during your career? Is it something you felt more prevalent in a business context from being in house? Or how did you see those habits within the private practice environment?


Dina White  (24:14)  

Yeah, so in house is quite different to private practice and private practice. You're all the experts. And there's a very clear hierarchy and you know, who everyone is, even in a big firm, you know, everyone is, when you're in house, particularly in a very large organisation, it's sometimes very difficult to know exactly who's who and who knows what. So understanding how to manage yourself, and then how you interact with others in that organisation is absolutely critical in a way that is not the case in private practice. In private practice, you're used to advising on the law and in house, it's much more a combination of the law, how you apply it, and how you interact with with your colleagues and your wider team and stakeholders and yeah.


Scott Brown  (25:03)  

Okay. Thank you for sharing those those lessons, loads of good practical tips for people to listen to. I look forward to hearing more about and tracking how things are going Zodia Markets and staying up to date on the developments within crypto. If people were interested in finding out more about that space, would you like to hear from anyone?


Dina White  (25:23)  

Absolutely. Yes. So you can check our website. It's www.zodiamarkets.com. Yeah. You can look me up on LinkedIn. 


Scott Brown  (25:34)  

Yeah, definitely, I'd recommend give Dina follow on LinkedIn. She put some excellent posts out on that space, really interesting stuff and a finger on the pulse in terms of development. So I'll share the link in the bio, but thank you for joining me today.


Dina White  (25:46)  

Thank you very much, Scott. It was a pleasure.


Scott Brown  (25:51)  

And thank you all for listening to Lessons I Learned in Law. We have a great back catalogue of guests that have appeared on series 1 to 4. So please check those out at heriotbrown.com/podcast. Thanks for listening