When I told my friends I was off to Moscow for six months, I encountered an array of reactions: “Great!” some would say, “What a fantastic business opportunity! Such an exciting city!”. Others were less enthused: “What did you do wrong that they’re expelling you to Siberia?”
It seems many Cold War stereotypes of Russia persist, influenced perhaps by too many Bond films. However, having read my FT and my Chekhov I was exhilarated to be living in Russia for six months – it has such a rich tapestry of culture and history, yet also a BRIC country with a rapidly developing economy. Waving my friends, family and fiancé goodbye, I moved to Moscow.
I’d prepared myself for a challenge, knowing it would be difficult to adapt to the different culture, the work and the weather. What surprised me most of all was how easy it all was: in many ways Moscow is like any other international city. My coffee is from Starbucks, my pizza from Papa John’s. With a basic grip on the language and the Cyrillic alphabet, I’ve been able to navigate my way around the Metro, buy tickets to the Bolshoi, and drink more cocktails than my liver would thank me for. (Top tip: mojito is pronounced the same in Russian, as is vodka!)
Everyone in my office speaks English, some better than others, and many highlights have been the cultural exchange in attitudes and words with them. Nearly every day a colleague will ask me for advice on drafting or speaking in English, or the different legal interpretations of English words. It’s alerted me to some of the idiosyncrasies our everyday vocabulary: clothes horse; spring chicken; paying through the nose. Trying to explain the term “sausage fest” was particularly amusing…
Often I’ve felt I’ve been learning two languages: Russian, and the language of Corporate M&A work. My previous seat was Real Estate, so Corporate was something of a volte-face in terms of the way I worked. In Real Estate I had 20-30 of my own files, but I knew what was happening with them and I could manage my own time. I’d work late on a Monday, so I could leave at 6pm on Tuesday and Wednesday. In Corporate, you tend to be part of a jigsaw. You can’t necessarily decide your own hours because it depends what’s happening with the whole deal. Overall though the hours have actually been better than London …so far!
An added advantage is that the Corporate team is smaller than in London. I find myself exposed to a broader range of work, and working directly with Partners more often than would be possible in London. As the only English-law trainee here, I’ve sat in on some high-level negotiations with partners which is a fantastic way to see the legal theory in commercial practice. I’ve also helped with the English law training for colleagues and clients – it feels great to contribute to BLP’s growing international capacity, rather than resting on the laurels of someone else’s graft. Nobody at BLP rests on their laurels.
The personal advantages of expat-life aside, I feel this seat will make me a better trainee and a more attractive candidate when it comes to qualification. Showing you have the ambition and tenacity to live abroad can only be a good thing, and as your clients become more international they will expect their lawyers to do the same. To trainees considering a seat abroad: do it. Once you take the leap, you’ll never look back.