If you are just starting out in your legal career, or are simply finding out more about becoming a solicitor, you have probably heard a lot about secondments. But what exactly is a secondment? And should you go on one? As someone who is currently on secondment, I will use this blog post to try to answer these questions and more!
What is a secondment?
A secondment is when an employee of a law firm works as part of a client’s in-house legal team, for a set period of time. This will involve working from the client’s office and effectively working for the client during this time. At Bristows, most trainees will go on secondment for a 3 month period during either the first or second year of their training contract (but not in the first six months to give you time to settle in). And it’s not just trainees – associates at Bristows also often go on secondment to clients that they work for.
Why are trainees sent on secondment?
A secondment is beneficial for all involved. It strengthens the law firm’s relationship with the client and allows them to develop personal relationships with the client’s legal team. The law firm can also understand the client’s business better and are better able to recognise the client’s needs and preferences, so that the client receives a more tailored and efficient service.
Why should I go on secondment?
Trainees who have been on secondment from Bristows are often given greater responsibility in the client’s legal team than they have experienced in their other seats. Often trainees will have to talk to other members of the company to understand the legal support they require and the commercial needs of the company – although this may sound intimidating, it can often be less daunting than talking to external clients when working at a law firm so it is great practice. Similarly, trainees can be directly involved in negotiation, rather than supporting a partner or an associate as is more common in private practice. This greater responsibility results in increased confidence and a greater appreciation of both the legal and commercial issues involved in each matter.
As in-house legal teams also deal with a wide range of enquiries from across the client company, trainees on secondment also get a wide variety of work from a wide range of practice areas, including some areas that their firm may not deal in.
Additionally, working in an in-house legal team is very different to working in private practice. For example, in-house lawyers have to be mindful of budgets, commercial targets and internal policies, which are not generally taken into consideration by lawyers working in law firms. In-house lawyers are also more involved in the commercial decision-making whereas private practice lawyers often are not involved at this stage as they take instructions after many of the decisions have been made. Seeing transactions and litigation from the commercial side can improve a trainee’s commercial awareness and give them a greater appreciation for commercial issues when they return from their secondment.
Where can I go on secondment?
The secondments available during a training contract at Bristows vary depending on the clients’ needs but Bristows tries to ensure that everyone can go on secondment if they wish to. Previous secondments of Bristows trainees have included Google, Sony and Capgemini.
What are some top tips for my secondment?
1) Do your research – before you start, research the company to understand what they do and speak to the partners and associates who do work for the company to understand what Bristows does for them;
2) Keep in touch – Bristows will always support trainees whilst they are on secondment, for example if they are unsure how to approach a piece of work;
3) Take every opportunity – as secondments are not very long, make the most of the learning experience and get involved in as many different things as you can; and
4) Ask questions – although you will be given greater responsibility, the client will know that you are still a trainee and will provide support when you need it.
Although it can seem daunting at first, going on secondment is a brilliant opportunity and an amazing learning experience. I was nervous before starting my secondment but once I had started, I immediately felt like part of the team. It is a steep learning curve but the experience is invaluable and I would recommend it to anyone.