On secondment at Unilever

Salma Daneshmand spent six months on secondment to Unilever as part of her training contract with Mayer Brown.

Before starting my training contract, I didn’t fully appreciate the merits of going on a client secondment. My main concern was that I would lose a qualification option, which I considered risky in the current economic climate. However, once I joined Mayer Brown, various associates and partners explained how valuable the experience of seeing things through a client’s eyes would be. Trainees were given a list of fantastic secondment choices to consider – top banks, insurance firms and global companies.

Unilever was the option which appealed to me the most. Almost every product in my home is manufactured by Unilever(!) and I was excited by the prospect of working for such a globally recognised company.

When my secondment was approved, it dawned on me: I’m going to work with a client for six months. I have to make a good impression, I thought – I will be representing my firm all day, every day. However – and I believe this is true of most in-house legal teams – Unilever’s lawyers were very approachable and down-to-earth. I soon saw them as my colleagues, people who supported and supervised me and included me on everything as if I were a full-time member of the team.

The work I was given was principally transactional, including drafting and negotiating agreements relating to supply/distribution, IP, charity initiatives, corporate transactions and confidentiality. This suited me well as someone who loves contract law. I also assisted with the project management of a few significant data protection matters. I attended meetings and conference calls, sometimes on my own. The work was particularly exciting because it often related to a Unilever brand I was familiar with.

I was given a high level of responsibility and gained the trust of the team by taking initiative, keeping people up to date and asking questions. It was extremely satisfying to apply the skills and legal knowledge I had picked up in my training contract. My colleagues at Mayer Brown were very supportive when I required additional assistance. There were also many perks – the free ice cream and gym, generally better hours than private practice and the Unilever shop!

I’m glad I listened to my senior colleagues. It was such a valuable experience sitting with in-house lawyers and understanding what matters to a client – not the grammatical/spelling errors in a contract so much, but the payment terms, what happens to any IP, confidentiality, etc. I have been able to apply what I have learnt since returning to my firm.

In terms of personal development, operating away from my firm and being trusted by an important client helped increase my confidence in my abilities as a lawyer. As for qualification, the teams I applied to were particularly interested to hear about my experiences on secondment and any ideas I had to improve client relationships. I’m very happy to say I will be staying on at Mayer Brown and losing a qualification option was ultimately not an issue – to the contrary, having a client secondment on your CV is a great selling point!