Talking International Secondments with RPC's Sophie Tuson
We wanted to give you the lowdown on what life was actually like on an International Secondment, so we sat down to talk it through with Sophie Tuson of RPC, who is currently completing a placement in Singapore with the firm.
Could you give us a quick description of where you’re doing your secondment and the kind of work you’re doing there?
I am doing my secondment in RPC's Singapore office. The team in Singapore is much smaller than in the head office in London – there are around 20 lawyers – and the work is divided into three key areas: insurance, commercial disputes and corporate. RPC teamed up with a Singaporean firm, Premier Law in May 2016, which means that we can now offer both English and Singapore law advice and can also advocate before the courts in Singapore which has proved to be very beneficial for our clients.
I am predominantly working on the insurance side of the Singapore practice and the work is very varied in that I work across almost all lines of the firm's insurance business, including property/construction, trade credit, financial institutions and cybersecurity. The teams are very lean so as a trainee you get to dip your toe into a lot of different areas of insurance law which is great for building up your technical knowledge and practical experience.
The insurance teams in Singapore predominantly do coverage work - that is, advising clients (insurers) on whether an insured's claim is covered under their insurance policy. It often involves very technical work in interpreting and advising on the wording of a particular policy and there is a lot of real legal research involved which trainees can really get their teeth into.
Did you choose to undertake an international secondment, or is it part of the training contract programme at RPC?
At RPC there is a rolling secondment between London, Hong Kong and Singapore. Trainees who are interested in these secondments are required to complete a short application form setting out why they're interested in the secondment and why they feel they're suitable.
What do you feel are the benefits to life as a secondee?
One of the greatest benefits of an international secondment is that you get a greater insight into the business that you're working for and gain first-hand experience of the firm's practice in another jurisdiction. As RPC's Singapore office is a lot smaller than the London office, I've felt much closer to the decision-making that goes on at senior levels and have been able to closely observe the mechanics of the business. This has been very valuable for my professional development.
An international secondment is also a great opportunity to develop cross-border relationships which can be very valuable for the firm. Many lawyers from the firm's London HQ may not have visited any of the firm's international offices and therefore secondees are a valuable resource and are able to share knowledge/insight about the firm's work and clients in other jurisdictions. This can help offices work more collaboratively together and tap into each other's expertise.
There will often be a large cohort of London trainees seconded out at the same time as you which makes the secondment a great opportunity to build your networks amongst peers at other law firms.
In terms of life as a secondee abroad, the benefits are fantastic. The firm will typically set you up in a serviced apartment which is often very central meaning that your commute is a lot shorter than in London (which leaves more time for exploring and socialising in the evenings!). The ready-made network of London trainees makes it very easy to make friends who you can share the experience with. From my perspective, Singapore is a very easy city to navigate, the quality of life (and weather) is great and the weekend travel opportunities are fantastic (think Borneo and Thailand for the weekend)…needless to say trainees here are pretty spoilt!
What has been your most memorable or valuable experience at your secondment so far?
I have had quite a few so far, including:
- Attending a client event at 'Level 33' (apparently the highest micro-brewery in the world!) which has stunning views across Marina Bay.
- Drafting my first full coverage advice for a client and seeing it go out with very few amendments.
- Visiting the Hong Kong office to meet the team there and going for lunch at the famous China Club (the dim sum is incredible and there is even a live noodle station where you can watch the chefs making the noodles by hand).
Did you find yourself in a state of culture shock when you first started? Was there a support system in place with RPC to help you get to grips with your new post/home?
Singapore has a lot of the same features that we're used to in London so I didn't experience any culture shock. It goes without saying that it takes a while to work out the logistics of living in a new city but my colleagues were very supportive and I quickly picked up the ropes.
How does the work differ from what you were up to before your secondment? For instance, is it structured differently in relation to seats, and are you working within the firm or as part of an in-house legal team?
I am working within the firm as opposed to in-house. The Singapore office is structured in a similar way to the London office in that the work is divided into insurance, corporate and commercial disputes teams (although London also has Commercial, IP, Media and Technology). The main difference is that the Singapore office is a lot smaller so the teams are much leaner and many of the lawyers work across a number of lines of business whereas in London the teams may only work in one specific area of law.
What’s your best piece of advice for anyone considering an international secondment?
Definitely do one! I couldn't recommend it highly enough – the experience is invaluable both from a professional and personal perspective. Whilst the logistics of moving abroad for 6 months may feel off-putting, the rewards are great. It's a fantastic opportunity to experience a new culture, get a greater insight into the business that you're working for and develop your professional relationships with colleagues in international offices (and bring valuable knowledge of their practices areas/clients back to London). It's also a brilliant opportunity to explore and travel. I will be leaving Singapore with a new network of friends and some wonderful memories!
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