As an aspiring solicitor, you’ll complete a two-year training placement after finishing the Legal Practice Course (LPC). The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requires trainees to gain experience in at least three departments or "seats” during this time. These should include one contentious area of law—for example crime, litigation or personal injury—and one non-contentious area, such as conveyancing, commercial contracts, or wills and probate.
Depending on the firm, you’ll usually spend four to six months in each seat during your training contract, but you may also have the opportunity of a secondment for up to six months. This means that you’ll go to work with a client’s in-house legal team or in one of the firm’s offices overseas.
A secondment is not a requirement for qualification (unless a firm can’t provide the required three areas of law without it), but it can be an excellent way to grow your network, and even to experience a new culture!
Below, we’ll explain the two main kinds of secondment you’ll come across.
In a client secondment, you’ll be working with a client’s in-house lawyers. This kind of secondment allows you to develop your knowledge of their business and the industry in which they work. It’ll help you appreciate clients’ perspectives, gain a better understanding of the advice they need, and develop effective communication skills.
Secondments can be scheduled at any time, but some firms prefer these to be during the final six months of training so you can put what you’ve learned into practice. You’ll be expected to exercise a degree of autonomy and contribute to meetings and discussions. You’ll also get the chance to build working relationships with clients, which is beneficial to both the business and your career.
Bristows, Squire Patton Boggs, and Mayer Brown are among those that arrange client secondments for most of their trainees. Bristows provides a three-month placement in or near London, with previous trainees placed with Google, Sony, and Capgemini. Mayer Brown trainees can name Unilever and Thomson Reuters among their placements, while past Squire Patton Boggs’ secondments have included FTSE 100 companies, retailers, and even Chelsea Football Club!
Some firms also provide secondments to not-for-profit organisations. For example, besides secondments at Lloyds Bank and the BBC, Reed Smith has offered experience at Liberty and Reprieve.
Another way to broaden your career horizons is to spend time in one of your firm’s offices overseas. Not only is this an exciting chance to experience another country, it will also introduce you to a more international way of practising law.
White & Case has 44 offices in 30 countries and encourages all trainees to take up international opportunities. You’ll be asked to submit three preferences and a match will be made based on location, practice area and availability. The firm offers 13 locations including: Beijing, Dubai, Hong Kong, Milan, Moscow, New York, Paris, and Tokyo. Watson Farley & Williams also guarantees every trainee a secondment in Athens, Bangkok, Dubai, Munich, Paris, or Singapore.
If your firm’s main office is in London, you may find yourself working with a smaller team elsewhere. This will let you to take on more responsibility, get an overview of working practices. You may also have more direct client contact.
Of course, firms with a large global presence have the most options, but sometimes, other arrangements can be made. Burges Salmon, for example, has been able to provide international opportunities with their “preferred firms network”. If you’re keen to spend part of your training in another country, it’s worth exploring all the options!
Whether working with a client or in an overseas office, secondments can enable you to apply your knowledge in a different environment, gain confidence, and make useful contacts that will come in handy later on.
Next article: Secondments: examples of destinations