When I started my training contract at Herbert Smith Freehills in 2012, I could not have imagined that I’d be spending my last month as a trainee in Freetown on secondment to the Government of Sierra Leone.
I was afforded this opportunity by virtue of HSF’s “Fair Deal Sierra Leone”, a free legal assistance facility for the Government of Sierra Leone that the firm has been running since our corporate partner Gavin Davies spent his sabbatical in Freetown working with Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative in 2011.
While Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries it is also characterised by huge potential and a growing economy. The facility is designed to offer support where the Government of Sierra Leone could not otherwise access legal advice. The purpose of Fair Deal is to ensure that the Government is able to make the most of increased investment into the country and secure economic growth for the benefit of all Sierra Leone’s citizens.
When I joined the Fair Deal steering group as a first-seat trainee, one of our senior associates had just returned from a six-month secondment to the Sierra Leone Attorney General’s office. After hearing what he was able to gain from his experience, both personally and professionally, I wanted to explore whether the opportunity could be made available for more junior lawyers.
The steering group were looking specifically for those who had periods of unpaid leave and wished to do something extraordinary with their time. As I neared the end of my training contract, I could think of no better way to spend part of my qualification leave.
Following a further successful secondment of another HSF senior associate, I flew to Freetown and began working in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Unit of the President’s Office. Most of the projects I worked on while I was there were energy-focused. I drafted template power purchase agreements for the Government to use during negotiations with private sector investors and guidelines on the key issues for the Government to consider when entering into energy-related PPPs. I also reviewed and amended legislation and drafted guidelines to the new PPP Bill.
On a personal level, I hugely enjoyed the challenge of living and working in a new place (the pristine mile-long white beaches might have had something to do with that!) and meeting such a large variety of people. The exposure to complex and unfamiliar legal issues, coupled with the degree of responsibility I was afforded, pushed me to new places professionally. The secondment also provided an excellent opportunity to meet and work with senior and experienced Government officials.
It was an invaluable experience that will stay with me long after my return.
Rebecca Perlman is a solicitor at Herbert Smith Freehills. After qualifying into the corporate department, she has now chosen to follow her passion for pro bono and community investment work by moving permanently to the Corporate Responsibility team.