Getting out of the office

Secondments not only give you the opportunity to spend time in a far-flung destination or to work in an in-house legal department, they are also an essential component of the training contract.

Lawyer 2Bs first ever in-house secondment survey revealed that 64 per cent of the UKs top 50 firms offer overseas secondments, while 70 per cent offer mtrainees the opportunity to spend part of their training contract with a client.

According to our survey, client secondments span all manner of organisations, including AstraZeneca, Barclays Bank, British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), Lehman Brothers, Lloyds TSB, London Underground, Orange, MTV, SABMiller and Shell. SJ Berwin and Eversheds, meanwhile, even second trainees to the Houses of Parliament and the Welsh Assembly respectively.

It is also becoming increasingly popular for trainees to undertake a pro bono secondment as part of their litigation seat.

Client secondments
One cynical senior partner at a top 50 UK firm recently described trainee secondments to clients as “cheap labour”. Indeed, there is some truth in this assertion, as it is not uncommon for firms to throw in a free trainee in exchange for a place on an organisations legal panel.

That said, client secondments are arguably more helpful than overseas placements for enhancing the skills that are necessary for becoming a successful commercial lawyer. Trainees are also typically given a lot more responsibility than they would get in private practice.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer offers one of the highest number of client secondments, including a placement with Airbus in Toulouse. Freshfields head of graduate recruitment Deborah Dalgleish says that client secondments at all levels are mutually beneficial and are used increasingly by firms to bolster their relationships with clients.

She adds: “Although overseas secondments are more popular, client placements can be more useful as trainees get to see matters from a clients perspective.”

Lovells trainee Angus Rankin, who spent his third seat with the in-house legal team at brewing giant SABMiller, says the main advantage of doing a client secondment is the unbeatable client contact and the greater level of responsibility than is normally possible for trainees in private practice.

“Youre completely immersed in the day-to-day operations of the legal team and learn very quickly what they expect from their external legal advisers. The opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of what clients want, at this early stage in my career, was invaluable,” enthuses Rankin.

SJ Berwin trainee Billy Read, who spent half of his last seat at the Houses of Parliament (see profile 2), says he wanted to go on secondment to Parliament as he has an interest in politics and because it is a very good way of developing skills, such as drafting and research.

Herbert Smith trainee Eleanor Humberstone, who is currently on secondment with BSkyB (see profile 1), says the main highlight of her placement, which is yet to come, will be the opportunity to have a go at reading the news.

There are no obvious disadvantages of going on client secondments. However, Rankin reminds trainees who decide to go on secondment for their last seat that they will be away from their firm during the qualification process. Rankin says this should not put trainees off from choosing a client secondment as their final seat, but advises that it may require some extra effort when applying for a job on qualification.

Overseas secondments
Overseas secondments have traditionally been the battleground for firms seeking to hire the cream of the graduate population. Indeed, an opportunity to spend six months in Hong Kong, New York or Paris might just swing the pendulum in a firms favour. However, Freshfields Dalgleish warns wannabe lawyers not to be disproportionately focused on overseas secondments. “Overseas secondments are the icing on the cake. But its important to find out whats beneath the icing,” she says.

Our survey revealed that the magic circle firms offered the most overseas secondments (see table). Secondments to New York and Asia continue to be the most popular, with 14 firms offering placements in Hong Kong, home of Lan Kwai Fong the much loved playground for foreign trainees and associates alike. Secondments to Dubai are also becoming increasingly popular thanks to its rise as a travel hot spot and because of the jump in the number of deals being handled out of the Middle East. According to our survey, the most far-flung overseas seat is offered by Slaughter and May, which recently introduced a secondment to Auckland.

Surprisingly, DLA Piper, which has lawyers located across 23 countries, does not offer any overseas secondments. But this is currently under review.

Overseas secondments are immensely popular, so one of the best ways of landing that dream placement is a language skill. For instance, it goes without saying that the ability to speak French or German will give trainees who want to work in Paris, Frankfurt or Dsseldorf the upper hand. But more unusual languages will also be of benefit. For instance, Freshfields prefers to second trainees who can speak Mandarin to mainland China. Similarly, if you want to be the lucky Linklaters trainee who gets to do a stint in Brazil, the ability to speak Portuguese will obviously help.

Also, think about whether the secondment you are chasing fits into your bigger game plan. For instance, if you want to qualify into the competition department, you should think about spending time in Brusssels. The key is to ensure that the office you want to be seconded to handles the type of work that is of interest to you.

It is also worth bearing in mind that overseas secondments are not just about travel.

“Its important to put overseas secondments into perspective. They are very different to gap years,” advises Dalgleish. An obvious downside is that overseas offices are typically smaller, so trainees will have to handle a broader range of work and there may be less support. There may also be cultural differences for you to consider. For instance, do not be surprised if your working week ends on a Saturday morning or starts on Sunday.

Pro bono secondments
A number of the firms surveyed by Lawyer 2B offer pro bono secondments to charities or other not-for-profit organisations. Lovells, for instance, recently introduced a secondment programme to International Save the Children.

As first reported by The Lawyer (8 May), Linklaters controversially withdrew its secondees from human and civil rights campaigning group Liberty and those from Tate Museums. The magic circle firm continues to second trainees to the Mary Ward Legal Advice Clinic, the Free Representation Unit and the Princes Trust.

Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance and Freshfields, meanwhile, continue to place trainees with Liberty, where they have the opportunity to assist in the preparation for cases to be heard in theHigh Court, the Court of Appeal or theEuropean Court of Human Rights.

A&O and Clifford Chance also second trainees to the Battersea Law Centre and not-for-profit law firm Law For All (LFA) respectively. While at LFA, trainees will find themselves advising people from disadvantaged backgrounds in a variety ofissues that are crucial to peoples financesor general welfare.

A pro bono secondment provides real benefits on all sides. Trainees will be able to acquire front-line litigation experience and at the same time give something back to the community. Indeed, the absence of the kind of business support that a commercial firm provides means they will have to learn on their feet.

Name: Eleanor Humberstone
Firm: Herbert Smith
Seconded to: British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB)

Why did you decide to go on secondment to BSkyB?

I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to gain further client exposure and to acquire a greater insight into understanding business from a clients perspective. I also felt that the wide variety of activities undertaken by
BSkyB would make it a particularly interesting company to be seconded to.

How many lawyers are in the legal department you are seconded to?
Approximately 65.

What does your typical day involve?
Im mainly involved in commercial contracts work. On a daily basis I draft and negotiate film and programme purchase agreements for the Sky Movies and Sky Travel Channels. This involves liaising with internal departments at Sky as well as having direct contact with the studios and distributors.

I also deal with requests for the release of news and sports footage and scheduling information from various parties, such as the police and firms of solicitors involved in civil and criminal litigation.

In addition, I help to review pages of the monthly Sky Magazine to check there is no defamatory material.

What has been the highlight of your secondment?
The highlight is yet to come Im promised a day where I will be given the opportunity to have a go at news reading.

What are the advantages of going on secondment?
Opportunities to enhance ones commercial awareness, to obtain a greater understanding of the clients business and for increased responsibility in the running of your own matters on a day-to-day basis.

How has the secondment helped you?
The steep learning curve and increased responsibility involved in the secondment has enabled me to further develop my legal and commercial skills.

Name: Billy Read
Firm: SJ Berwin
Seconded to: Office of Jonathan Djanogly MP

Why did you decide to go on secondment to the Houses of Parliament?
I decided to go on secondment for several reasons. First, I wanted to broaden the breadth of my training experience. By
working in a completely different work environment I hoped to pick up new skills. I also wanted to go on secondment to Parliament as I had been informed by previous secondees that it was a very good way of developing expertise such as drafting and research skills, which are vital to becoming a good lawyer.

Im very interested in politics and the chance to go and work for an MP and get a front-row seat on the political process was too great to miss. No other training contract that I have heard of offers a similar seat so I viewed it as a unique opportunity.

How many lawyers are in the legal department you are seconded to?
I work directly with Jonathan Djanogly, who is a partner at SJ Berwin. The project I worked on in Parliament involved coordinating a team of 40 lawyers who were working for Jonathan.

What does your typical day involve?
I start the day by getting the daily agenda from the vote office. This sets out what is going on in Parliament every day. I scan it for anything that would be relevant to the areas that Jonathan works in, such as company law, legal services and corporate governance. I then do a press search to see if anything has been reported about these relevant areas.

After that, there is no typical day in Parliament. If Jonathan is due to make a speech, my day will be entirely taken up with drafting that. This involves gathering a huge amount of source material and ordering it into coherent speaking notes.

For a lot of my time in Parliament I am working on the Companies Bill. A great deal of my time is therefore taken up with drafting and filing amendments to that bill.

What has been the highlight of your secondment?
Having a speech I wrote read out on the floor of the House of Commons.

What are the advantages of going on secondment?
Apart from Parliament being a vibrant and fun place to experience, the main advantage is that youre given far more responsibility than you normally have as a trainee. This greatly increases your confidence. It also enables you to work with a wider variety of people and experience a greater variety of work.

What are the disadvantages of going on secondment?
Not having the SJ Berwin free lunch and a lack of secretarial and other support staff help.

How has the secondment helped you?
You get a thorough understanding of how statute is made and it has taught me a huge amount about the Companies Bill. It has also given me an insiders view of the political process.