International secondments: the firm perspective
International secondments are offered to all trainee solicitors at White & Case. This unique experience develops a trainee’s skillset and allows them to fully develop into a lawyer specialising in cross-border, international work. We spoke to Christina Churchman, Graduate Resourcing & Development Manager at White & Case, about this exciting opportunity.
How do international secondments work at White & Case, and what are the kinds of places that secondees can find themselves working?
We guarantee a six-month overseas seat for every trainee, and this can be completed in either their second, third or fourth seat. The decision of where to go on an overseas seat is made very early on. Our trainees are provided with information on each overseas seat in the form of a book containing information on the practice groups and a trainee viewpoint of life in each office.
They are then asked to submit three preferences, which we encourage not to be based solely on location but the practice area as well. Often, we can slot trainees into their preferred choice, but for those offices that are particularly oversubscribed in any given rotation, the names of the trainees are selected at random from a hat, as it seems the fairest way of deciding.
Although White & Case’s heritage is in the United States, the firm has a far greater global presence. Currently, trainees can choose from Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Milan, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague, Singapore, Stockholm, and Tokyo as locations.
An overseas secondment is a huge career-changing opportunity, Trainees often return as almost ready-made lawyers given the increased levels of responsibility they have overseas as quite often they can be one of only a few trainees in that office.
What are the benefits of undertaking an international secondment?
White & Case is truly a global firm with strong "one firm" values. We have 44 offices in 30 countries and it is an invaluable part of the training contract for our trainees to understand how we interact by sharing knowledge, experience and skills between offices.
More often than not, our work is multi-jurisdictional in nature, and our clients hire us because they know we can deliver the best and brightest international team who will work together seamlessly. The overseas seat is pivotal in providing our trainees with an opportunity early on in their career to build their global White & Case network and to see first-hand how we operate as one firm.
For trainees, the benefits of undertaking an overseas secondment are widespread. 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.
On a personal level, international secondments provide trainees with a unique opportunity to live and work in another country, absorbing the culture and language it has to offer.
For us, the employer, we benefit as a firm as our trainees will have an international outlook and an appreciation of different jurisdictions—key attributes that make a lawyer successful at a firm like White & Case, which regularly serves international clients.
Working in our overseas offices is not limited to our trainees. Dependent on business need, our associates and partners can second to any number of offices in our global network for any number of reasons from as little as a few weeks or as part of a permanent relocation.
Do you look for a desire to work internationally in a vacation-scheme or training-contract application?
It is essential that all applicants understand the nature of the work we do and have a desire to work on cross-border matters. The guaranteed overseas seat is an integral part of the training contract at White & Case as it is the first step in our trainees’ careers towards ensuring we continue to operate as one firm. Consequently, we would expect to see a desire to work internationally within the applications we receive.
Moving abroad to a new workplace is understandably quite a big jump—does White & Case offer a support system for secondees?
Despite being overseas, trainees know they have the continued support from the London office. Additionally, they have the support of the local HR team who are integral in transitioning them from London to their overseas location and supporting them whilst they are there.
We offer all secondees free accommodation for six months and a cost of living adjustment to help with their personal budgeting. There are also free language lessons for selected seats, allowing trainees to develop one of the skills that can potentially be a great asset later in their career.
Trainees also receive the same level of personal training and are assigned a supervisor to ensure they get the most out of their time spent overseas.
How does working internationally differ from the work trainees do before their secondment?
English law is the dominant legal code for major transactions in most of the world. Our trainees on secondment outside of London provide English advice on English deals in a local market so the work will always be similar. The level of responsibility, however, may often be higher if they are one of only a few trainees in the office they have been seconded to.
While working overseas, they learn the nuances of operating in that market; and the clients get the brightest and best young lawyers being produced in London, and the benefit of cutting-edge London know-how.
What is your main piece of advice for those who are considering an international secondment?
Make the most of it! It is a fantastic opportunity to live and work overseas with a full support mechanism in place. Having the experience of working in a new city and adapting to a new culture will be of enormous benefit to your career.
Next article: Secondment FAQs