The benefits of a secondment
Law firms recognise that working in-house with a client or in an overseas office will broaden your knowledge of applying the law in context. So it’s a good idea to take a secondment if you get the chance.
As part of your training contract, you may have the opportunity to work on secondment with a client’s in-house legal team or in one of your firm’s international offices. Both experiences offer a great opportunity to broaden your horizons and gain life experience. They also help you to develop skills that firms value.
Spending up to six months working in-house with a client will help you to understand the law in a business context. As a solicitor, legal knowledge is essential, but as Paul Gascoyne, graduate recruitment manager at Shearman & Sterling, makes clear: “Many of our clients are businesses and we are giving them business advice as well as legal advice.”
Firms view commercial awareness as a vital trait. Jonathan Angell, partner at Dechert, defines this as “thinking about the consequences, the wider issues and the implications from a business perspective, not just a legal perspective”.
Working alongside a client’s in-house lawyers is a great way to experience the business environment. You also gain a broader knowledge of developments within an industry relevant to your firm. As Ian Edwards, partner at Bird & Bird points out: “We at Bird & Bird are very conscious that you can’t give legal advice in a vacuum.”
You will find yourself working with people who are not lawyers and have different knowledge, skills and priorities. Spending time in-house will help you to appreciate the client perspective, the type of advice needed and effective ways to communicate. James Needham, partner at Shoosmiths, feels that a key skill is mastering how to tailor advice in a way that is engaging to the client: “It’s having a regard for how businesses operate and how clients receive advice in a way that they can then apply to their own business.”
As well as developing awareness and communication skills, you also get the chance to build working relationships. When you return to your firm, you can apply the insights and experience gained to help yourself, and your colleagues, work more effectively with clients. As a trainee at Womble Bond Dickinson explains, a secondment is "a great opportunity to learn more about our clients and their needs from an in-house perspective."
If you are training with a firm with a large global presence, you may be offered the opportunity to spend time working in an overseas office. White & Case has 44 offices in 30 countries and encourages all trainees to take up international opportunities. It offers secondments in 13 locations and will match trainees based on preference, location, practice area and availability. Christina Churchman, head of graduate resourcing & development at White & Case, says: “Working abroad will offer a trainee invaluable international experience, working on cross-border matters. They will also gain a deeper understanding of different markets and jurisdictions.”
Lawyers at international firms often find themselves liaising with colleagues and clients across the world on complex cases involving different national laws. Any insights you gain through a secondment will help your development and benefit your firm. Large global firms will have the most opportunities, but other firms may be able to offer experience with overseas law firms they work with as preferred suppliers.
Working in-house with a client can help you develop commercial awareness, and spending time in an overseas office will improve your understanding of international law. Whichever option you take, you will meet new people from a variety of backgrounds and gain experience that should help you become a better lawyer.