Could you give us a brief description of how client secondments work at Freshfields, and the kind of places that secondees can find themselves working?
Client secondments vary in length from three to six months depending on the client. The secondments available include sitting in the legal team of large international investment banks such as Goldman Sachs or Credit Suisse, large corporate clients such as BP or AstraZeneca, and charities such as Liberty or Oxfam. A trainee can therefore go on secondment to an in-house legal team which has a similar culture to the firm and is involved in similar matters or go somewhere completely different. Once the trainee has been told where they are going on secondment, a handover is arranged with the current secondee so that the incoming trainee fully understands what they will be working on and what will be expected of them. There is often an opportunity to meet the team you will be joining before your official start date.
How does a client secondment experience differ from a more general in-firm secondment?
The work which you undertake on a client secondment can vary widely from the work you would be involved in during an in-firm secondment. Firstly, all client secondments are based in the UK , whereas in-firm secondments take place at one of our international offices.
Secondly, the work itself can be very different as you may find yourself involved in areas of law not usually covered by the firm, or on matters of a smaller scale.
Client secondments often allow you to take on far more responsibility than that available during an in-firm secondment, as you will generally manage your own matters and can find yourself negotiating with customers of the client or managing an in-house project. Also, you are viewed as a ‘lawyer’ and expected to participate in meetings and give your opinion – this can be daunting but great experience and helps you to develop legal skills as well as confidence.
How are client secondments structured in relation to the rest of the training contract at Freshfields, especially with regard to seats?
Usually, a trainee goes on a client secondment during the last six months of their training contract. However, like other aspects of the training contract at Freshfields, this is flexible. You may apply for a client secondment at any point in your training contract, but it is advisable to do so towards the end (preferably in the second year) so that you can use and build upon the knowledge and experience you will have already gained.
Normally, only one secondment is undertaken by any one trainee, but again this is flexible as a six month international secondment and a three month client secondment, or two client secondments, is possible. If you choose to go on secondment early, or decide to do more than one secondment, you will meet with various members of the trainee development team (and possibly with your Trainee Intake Partner) to talk through your options and ensure you have seen enough practice areas to make the right decision.
What do you feel are the benefits for a trainee doing a client secondment?
There are many benefits to going on a client secondment. Client secondments enable you to develop an increased awareness of issues affecting clients on a daily basis. It is also a good opportunity to network with clients and to build business development skills for when you are back at the firm. A key benefit is the confidence it can give you, as from day one you are treated as a member of the legal team and are given a great opportunity to take on a lot of responsibility. In addition, you often have to network across departments which helps you to build up a network of contacts and to feel comfortable speaking to different people in different departments about legal matters and responding to legal issues quickly and efficiently.
Since a client secondment is different from an in-firm programme, is there a support system in place for trainees during their secondment?
There is as much support as you feel that you require. You are free to ask the appropriate knowledge management lawyers, or any contacts you have back at the firm, for help on tricky legal questions if required. The partners responsible for the secondment keep in touch to see how things are going and if you have any secondment specific questions you can contact the trainee development team. It is also worth noting that clients are used to having a trainee secondee in their team and are used to the secondment rotation so will not expect you to know and understand everything from day one.
How much interaction is there between Freshfields and the client during a trainee’s secondment?
This is highly dependent on the secondment. If the firm is working on a particular matter with the client, then you may or may not be involved, and the client can feed back to the firm on your performance via the normal Freshfields appraisal route (or informally if they prefer).
What is your main piece of advice for those considering undertaking a client secondment?
You should think carefully about the kind of work you would like to do during a client secondment and spend some time reading the summaries provided by trainee development which explains what you will be working on during the secondment. You should also speak to other trainees and associates who have been on the same secondment to make sure it is something that you will be interested in. My main piece of advice is to only apply for a secondment that you genuinely want to do, be that in-firm or client, so that you can really get the most out of the experience.