Have you been on an international secondment? How did this differ from being at your home office?
I spent six months in our Paris office in the Banking and Finance department. On reflection, basically every aspect of work is different from that in the London office. Given the size of the office the culture tends to be more relaxed, and secondees from London quickly learn that the long lunch with a glass of wine is alive and well in Paris.
The clients also have a different way of operating which poses new and interesting challenges; cultural difference plays a part, as does working in a foreign language.
In your experience, is it important to be fluent in another language when working at an international law firm?
I think, while it is certainly possible to get by with English, speaking another language is useful for interacting with clients and colleagues, and for gaining an understanding of different legal systems. I have only a working knowledge of French, but that's been enough to spend a bit of time on French law matters, or English law matters with French clients, which has been very rewarding.
What is the support system like at Herbert Smith Freehills? What do you do when you’ve got a problem or are stuck on a project?
Herbert Smith Freehills has a great support system. The partner mentoring programme pairs each trainee with a partner in the firm, providing a reliable source of guidance for most issues that come up as a trainee. There is also a supportive culture among trainees; any time I have been stuck, I have been able to reach out to other trainees for advice, support or help with my workload.
What are some of the things you know now about training contracts that you wish you’d known before applying?
I wish I had known more about the different practice areas and seats that were available for trainees. I think a lot of firms focus on their strength in certain areas, or the international opportunities the firm offers, but I think it would be useful to get an understanding of what specific areas of legal practice involve (although vacation schemes are extremely useful for this).
How do you handle the life-work balance when working at an international law firm?
I have found that being up front with people is the best approach. I have never had an issue leaving early where I have had a commitment outside of work, or if I have had a particularly difficult or busy day and have wanted to leave early. Of course there are times where this is not possible, but people are always understanding when they have enough notice, and if the work gets done.
What advice would you give to people currently applying for training contracts at international law firms?
Be open to trying different things. I have found interesting aspects in each of the four seats in my training contract, and have enjoyed seats that I never intended to do before starting my training contract.