updated on 16 April 2019
The idea of going on secondment as a trainee can mean different things - for some, it is the chance to travel and experience living in another country. For others, it’s about entering the heart of the client, and working out how best to serve their needs from that vantage point.
From a firm’s perspective, sending a trainee off on secondment to a client can be very useful, as it can serve to both (i) raise the firm’s profile in the eyes of the client, and (ii) make them a better, more commercially aware, lawyer. Firms also use their international secondment opportunities to entice applicants, especially those who are keen on travel as part of their career. For example, Freshfields trainees can apply for a secondment at one of the firm’s network of 28 offices. Many also go on secondment to clients, including The Bank of England, Goldman Sachs, Liberty, Sony Computer Entertainment, Tesco and Tower Hamlets Law Centre. The variety is immense.
Some big-name firms even offer their vacation scheme students a taste of what a secondment is like; Baker McKenzie runs an international vacation scheme, which lasts up to 12 weeks, and will see you divide your time between London and one of its many overseas offices, including Hong Kong, Sydney or New York.
Over the years, we’ve interviewed lots of trainees and NQs for whom secondment has been a defining stage of their training contract. Why? In terms of client secondments, it’s because it provides an unparalleled insight into how a client’s business works and can forge valuable relationships. As for international secondment, it’s a chance to experience a different working culture and be immersed in a new city.
Below are some testimonials from those who’ve done it and bought the T-shirt; learn from them and seize the opportunity if it presents itself:
“Going on client secondment has been one of the most valuable pieces of training that I have completed so far. While it means doing a completely different job for six months, you get to experience things from the client’s perspective. This allows you to recognise what is important for the client and how to deliver advice in a format that is helpful and commercially relevant.”
Charlotte Davies, associate at Norton Rose Fulbright
“Going on secondment to the firm's Brussels office in my third seat was a definite highlight. I studied economics at A level, so competition law had an immediate appeal to me. The experience wasn't just about getting an insight into an area of law that I found interesting, though. The team out there was great and I was under the impression that they were really going places.”
Joshua Smith, associate at Dechert LLP
“I went on secondment to a large design and engineering company. The secondment was brilliant - everyone should do one. I learnt so much; I was thrown in at the deep end so it was a bit scary, but I am much better at my job as a result. Among other things, you learn how a business is run and their commercial demands and priorities, and that the business you are working within can be just as demanding as in a private practice/client relationship.”
Beth Fryer, former associate at Charles Russell Speechlys, now at Atkins China Limited
“[Secondment] was definitely a valuable experience, particularly in that I was given the opportunity to see things from a client's perspective and understand exactly what the client wants, as opposed to what we as lawyers think the client wants, such as sending the client a three-page memo when what is wanted is a “yes” or “no” answer with a brief explanation.”
Rachael Dixon, associate at Dentons
“My time spent on secondment was probably the highlight of my training contract – it gives you a great opportunity to build client relationships and to experience a different working environment.”
Laura Demaine, senior associate at Walker Morris