Stephenson Harwood: on secondment in Qatar
Kasia Sikora-Sikorski is an associate and solicitor-advocate at Stephenson Harwood. She had the opportunity to complete an international secondment, which took her to Qatar, where she worked with Qatar Museums. Here, she discusses what it was like to live and work abroad.
How long have you been with Stephenson Harwood and how did you join?
I joined Stephenson Harwood's Commercial Litigation Department two and a half years ago, as part of a team move.
What attracted you to the area of law you work in?
I have always enjoyed the problem-solving aspects of litigation—delving deep into the detail of a matter and working to identify the facts which will help your clients achieve their ultimate goals. When developing a strategy, you often have to think several years into the future and how what you are currently doing will fit into that long-term goal, while at the same time, reacting to and navigating through the daily ups and downs of litigation—it is challenging but very rewarding.
At which point of your career did you go on an international secondment and to where?
I undertook my international secondment in 2017 when I was four years PQE. At that stage, I had mainly worked in the areas of professional negligence and high-net-worth trust disputes. However, I was looking to gain experience in other areas of law. The commercial litigation department contains a highly-rated art team and I was keen to become involved with their work.
How did the opportunity come about to take an international secondment?
The senior partner sent an email to the litigation associates at my level, explaining that an opportunity for an international secondment had arisen and asked those who were interested to apply for the post. The role was as a secondee to Qatar Museums (QM) in Doha, the government authority in Qatar which is responsible for Qatar's museums, public art, and various cultural projects. I was lucky enough to be put forward by the firm and, from my CV, QM accepted me for the secondment.
What attracted you to that particular location?
I have to admit that, initially, I was slightly apprehensive about living in Qatar. I did not know much about the country apart from the upcoming World Cup and that an embargo against Qatar had just been announced by several states. However, after researching QM and learning more about Qatar's history, I was fascinated how this thriving, international metropolis had arisen from the desert in such a short space of time, whilst continuing to invest in its citizens and public art, as well as maintaining its culture and heritage. The opportunity to be on the ground and be a part of it was too good an opportunity to miss.
How did the working and living experience shape your perspective on international law/working in an international law firm?
Put simply, international clients require international law advice. QM operates on the world stage, working with international artists, curators, galleries, and institutions. Queries or issues can arise in any jurisdiction in which they are operating and having international offices means that you are able to assist with a much wider range of issues and have greater confidence in the advice received from those jurisdictions.
How has your understanding of international business developed?
Being in-house when an international project is being developed and finalised gives you a far greater insight into all of the commercial arrangements which you, as a lawyer, will ultimately record. You see, first-hand, how departments work together and work with their counterparts in foreign jurisdictions, navigating to find common ground and even, fundamentally, a common language. Luckily for me, all of QM's business dealings are conducted and recorded in English.
How has working on multi-jurisdictional deals developed you as a lawyer?
Whilst my background had been as an English litigator, I quickly saw how the skills you learn can be transferred to other jurisdictions and other areas of law: being commercial and practical; being able to draft contracts; being able to understand people's needs and what they want. I also learnt the importance of understanding local culture and customs and how that is just as important, in international business, as your legal skills. The risk of misinterpreting a clause (or even a whole deal) due to not understanding how businesses usually operate and instead projecting how a matter would progress "back at home", cannot be underestimated.
What was your biggest highlight?
I worked on some fantastic projects whilst at QM, working with world famous galleries and artists and being involved in some exciting commercial ventures which have yet to be announced. A particular highlight I can discuss was working with the Exhibitions team to bring Ai Weiwei's "Laundromat" exhibition to Qatar. Originally shown in New York, this powerful work highlights the refugee crisis through the exhibition of abandoned clothes and it was a fantastic achievement for QM to be able to bring the exhibition to Doha. A particularly surreal day involved a skype call with Ai Weiwei and his team to discuss details of the exhibition—not something you do every day.
What skills does it take to work abroad?
The ability to navigate social norms and cultural differences will be just as important as your legal abilities—you need to observe, learn and be able to seamlessly blend in with your colleagues. The ability to trust yourself and your instincts also helps.
Would you recommend an international client secondment?
Absolutely! Working in-house at a client helps you to really understand their business and gives you a fresh insight into how you can improve and tailor the service you provide to them. For those looking to push themselves even more, an international secondment stretches you that much further and gives you that much more responsibility—I have now had experience of being the only lawyer involved in organising international exhibitions and international commercial deals, working with senior stakeholders, directors and even the CEO, in order to make things work. Such experiences are invaluable to your development and your career.
To find out more about opportunities at Stephenson Harwood, visit the firm's profile.
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