Firms recognise that working within a client’s business can develop commercial awareness and industry knowledge. A large firm will have more options but not every client will take on trainees. You may be able to submit preferences but may not find yourself at your preferred choice. Wherever you find yourself, take the opportunity to understand the client perspective and build working relationships.
Hogan Lovells associate Ariane Messiter recalls her secondment with Barclays Wealth as: “a fantastic opportunity to get to know and really understand what our clients want from us.” Trainees at the firm may also be seconded to clients such as BNP Paribas, Exxon Mobil, Ford Credit Europe or Merck Sharp & Dohme.
Shoosmiths’s website shares Amy Leech’s experience of a secondment at Volkswagen Group UK. She valued the opportunity to “try out different types of work that would normally encompass four or five separate seats”.
Some firms—including Reed Smith—have offered secondments in the not-for-profit sector and Dechert has offered a trainee secondment in the role of Judicial Assistant at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Working in an overseas office or with a preferred partner firm requires you to adapt quickly to different legal systems, cultures and terminology. You may be expected to take on more responsibility and have more client contact than in the UK. A secondment is also about experiencing a different country and you will find plenty of opportunities for social and cultural activities with fellow trainees.
A large number of firms offer Dubai as a secondment destination. On Slaughter and May’s website, Associate Natasha Nichols recalls the “high level of responsibility” and “incredibly helpful and friendly” colleagues she encountered on her secondment at Afridi & Angell.
Outside of work, there are many activities on offer. If you’re feeling active there’s cycling, rock climbing, sandboarding, ski-diving and waterparks. Or take an abra boat trip, visit a souk or check out some contemporary art.
You may be familiar with a lazy weekend brunch, but Dubai takes this to new heights. From midday on a Friday, you can expect a vast range of food, free-flowing drinks, music and other entertainment.
Not much more than an hour from Dubai by car is Abu Dhabi, another popular secondment destination among firms. Considered calmer and more traditional, it has less nightlife, more parks, wild mangrove swamplands and the popular waterfront Corniche. However, commentators do feel that is it now catching up with Dubai in terms of development.
There is much to enjoy outside work in the UAE, but it is important to note the restrictions on drinking alcohol outside of licensed premises and the low tolerance of drunken behaviour.
Hong Kong is a popular base for law firms and many offer secondments here. Legal systems in Hong Kong and the UK have much in common, which can help you find your feet. On secondment here with RPC, Rachael Ellis had “plenty of responsibility”, working on a large arbitration for a fashion brand among other assignments. Other trainees in the city gave her an “instant group of contacts” for socialising and there are endless options for dinner and evening drinks. Weekends could include exploring markets, trips to the races or taking part in the annual Dragon Boat Festival. You may also get the opportunity to explore other locations in the region.
Often pitched as a rival to Hong Kong, Singapore is thought of as less crowded, cleaner and more sedate. James Hammond, writing on Stephenson Harwood’s website, appreciated his time here for the opportunity to work across multiple jurisdictions and the level of client contact. Sophie Tuson says her secondment through RPC brought her “much closer to the decision-making” and enabled her to build her network. Outside of work she felt “pretty spoilt” by the quality of life, the weather and the travel opportunities, mentioning trips to Hong Kong, Borneo and Thailand.
You may be a trainee in the UK, but in the US, you will be treated as an associate. This means increased responsibility and even your own office. Describing her experience on Shearman & Sterling’s website, Katie Matthews says: “This might seem daunting at first, but it allows for a lot more autonomy”.
You will likely find yourself in accommodation with an easy commute to the office allowing you to experience life in the heart of the city. As a secondment destination, it remains popular among firms. With all that New York has to offer—in terms of nightlife, cuisine, theatre and museums—it is no surprise that it tops the wish list for many trainees.
Next article: International secondments: the lowdown