You might think that once you've got your training contract you're set for life; you've joined the only company you'll ever work for. That could be true—but if you're maybe not so enthusiastic about spending the next 60 years or so with the same employer, a secondment could be for you.
What is a secondment?
A secondment is a period of time during which an employee from one company or department temporarily moves to another. A secondment would form part of your training contract and usually lasts six months, or a “seat”, although some secondments extend to three months.
Secondments are offered to provide career development for the employee, helping them develop certain skills that will improve their CV and help them should they return to their original position. Depending on the type of work or host company, a secondment can give workers the opportunity to learn a complete new set of skills, greatly enhancing their professional development.
Should I do a secondment?
No one can make the decision for you, but if you have the option to do one it‘s a good opportunity. Although you're not required to do a secondment to qualify as a lawyer, as part of your training contract you'll need to work in at least three different areas of law. Some firms may have a compulsory secondment period, while some might not have the option at all, so it's worth checking before you apply for your training contract.
We've interviewed many lawyers who have done secondments, and all expressed the belief that they greatly improve the training contract experience. Some firms also offer international secondments, giving trainees the chance to experience the differences between UK business and companies abroad. Because these secondments tend to be more competitive, you'll need to weigh your options early.
What are the benefits?
Doing a secondment usually means that you’ll have a lot more responsibility in your new department—you'll probably be joining a very small legal team of one of your firm's clients, rather than being surrounded by qualified lawyers. You'll be dealing with clients on a much more intimate basis, and have a chance to see how the companies your firm deals with operate.
Not only will a secondment help you understand the companies better, it also presents a great opportunity to build relationships with clients, experience a variety of high-value work and further expand your professional network.
Who will my employer be?
The original employer will remain the secondee’s employer, and it’s important for employers to recognise their liabilities and responsibilities with regard to the secondee and ensure that they are maintained during the secondment period.
Because there’s always a risk that the secondee will become an employee of the host, all parties must be knowledgeable of the following:
The secondee doesn’t owe a duty to the host directly (only to the original employer). The host will not owe any duties to the employee (only to the seconder). The seconder will maintain day-to-day control over the secondee. The seconder, not the host, will carry out any mandatory appraisals, disciplinary or grievance actions.
Will I get paid?
Yes, the seconder will usually continue to pay the secondee’s wages and all associated costs. If the secondment is a commercial arrangement, the host will usually reimburse these expenses. In this case, the host will pay a secondment fee to the seconder at regular intervals during the period, as specified in the secondment agreement. The agreement should also address:
- Who will pay any additional costs, such as overtime, bonuses, relocation expenses, training costs and membership fees.
- What will happen if the secondee is absent for an extended period of time (maternity leave, long-term or consistent short-term absences).
- Any potential changes that could potentially occur during the secondment period, such as an increase in the secondee’s salary.
Where can I do my secondment?
The opportunities for secondment will depend entirely on your law firm, the companies they deal with and what they want you to be doing. In general, secondments are usually offered at large corporations such as investment banks or with corporate clients, but there are opportunities with nationwide charities too.
Secondments can occur within an employer or group of employers. If the secondment is to another part of the same employer, relatively small changes to the secondee’s terms of employment may be all that’s necessary, but if the secondment is to a separate legal entity, a more formal arrangement may be necessary.
When should a secondment be done?
A secondment can be done at any point during the training contract, but the opportunities will vary based on the individual firm. A manager should consider each employee on a personal level before encouraging them to take on a secondment and the extra demands that come with it.
Most secondments take place in the last six months of the training contract, which means that you’re more experienced when you get there. While it’s possible to do it earlier, remember—a secondment will require you to take on a much greater level of responsibility.
But what about my law firm?
Law firms vary regarding how much involvement they have during a secondment. Some might be rather hands-off, while others will assign you a supervisor or mentor to keep up-to-date with your progress and answer any questions you may have. Generally, for the secondment to be successful, the secondee needs to follow the host’s day-to-day instructions and comply with its policies.
A secondment gives trainees some insight into what it’s like to be a legal client, which can be extremely useful when the trainee returns to the initial office. Generally, firms benefit from the new skills that trainees learn during the secondment, and the clients benefit from having access to well-trained legal resources who have a greater understanding of their needs.
Next article: Benefits of a secondment