Members Spotlight – Nicole Sullivan, White & Williams LLP
by Alison Myles
Nicole Sullivan – Partner, White & Williams LLP
• Give us a brief description of your profession?
Nicole represents national and international clients in litigation, mediation and arbitration of complex commercial and business disputes. Nicole advises clients on pre-litigation and early resolution of actions as well as e-discovery issues. She assists foreign and domestic companies with opening and operating their businesses in the United States. Nicole routinely acts as outside general counsel for these entities assisting with transactional, intellectual property, contracts, employment and other related legal issues. Her practice also includes multi-jurisdictional trust and estate litigation.
• Why did you choose to focus on commercial litigation as opposed to another practice area?
Since I was young girl, I wanted to be a trial attorney. I had a sign on my door that said, “Attorney at Law” and I loved watching Perry Mason and Matlock with my parents. I also remember being inspired when Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. I never imagined being anything other than a litigator and can say it has served me well over the years. I am even more blessed in the last few years as my practice has expanded beyond litigation and I work with many companies as their outside general counsel advising them on their North American operations.
• It must be exciting to work with startups! What advice would you give to companies looking to break into the US market for the first time?
I love working with foreign companies entering the U.S. market. It is so rewarding advising and assisting entrepreneurs make their vision a reality. The key piece of advice I give to all my clients is have proper business and legal advisors in place sooner than later. It is important to make sure that your business complies with U.S. regulations as well as the individual laws in each of the states where you will be conducting business. A lot of companies do not want to invest the money in these advisors early on, which is usually a mistake. One company we represented set up their U.S. operations through LegalZoom and it took us a year and a large legal bill to unwind their corporate structure and set it up properly. Had they had the proper legal counsel at the start, it would have been a small fraction in legal fees.
• How has the IIBN helped your career and network, personally or professionally?
The IIBN has been a fantastic organisation and it has been a very fulfilling partnership over the last three years. Through the IIBN, we have been able to make so many connections with the Irish diaspora in the States and UK as well as some amazing Irish companies and professionals in Ireland. Professionally, we have built a strong client base through the IIBN and personally, I have met many people who I now consider my friends. I truly feel blessed to have partnered with the IIBN and look forward to many more fruitful years together.
• What has been your most challenging professional experience?
I have found it challenging working in firms where there has been an eat what you kill mentality creating an unnecessary environment of competition among peers. I have always believed that the more successful one is, the more successful we all will be and we should focus on boosting each other up instead of tearing each other down. I have been lucky though to have had many wonderful mentors who have both advised me on how to walk through that minefield and have protected me. Thankfully, the firm I recently partnered with is much more in line with my values and mindset and I am excited about all the collaboration with my new colleagues.
• What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
During my free time, I love to spend time with my husband and four kids, watching them grow and flourish. I am also very close to my extended family and love spending time with them whether it’s playing cards or board games. In addition, I am an avid crossfitter and runner. I love to do road races of all distances and obstacle course races like Spartans.
• Has a case ever affected you on deeper level where it ended up changing your views/outlook?
Early in my career, we represented a young man who had allegedly violated an order of protection. In fact, he had not violated the order of protection as he was allowed to be on the University’s property as he was student. Because his attorney did not properly advocate for him, he was found guilty and spent six months on Riker’s Island where he was repeatedly abused physically and sexually. We assisted him in suing his attorney for malpractice, which is not something we like to do but was necessary in this case to right a terrible wrong. This case taught me the importance of checking all the boxes, doing your homework, focusing on the details and making sure that every client, no matter what the issues are, receives your best 100% of the time.
• How do you define success and what advice would you give to a young professional on “making it in New York”?
Success is an amorphous term with no all-encompassing definition. What success means is a very individualised concept. For me, success means being happy more days than I am not happy doing what I do. Advice I would give to a young professional looking to make it in New York is to network and create genuine connections with as many people as you can both in and outside your industry.