Every secondment counts
4 June 2007
In today's competitive legal market secondments are increasingly used by firms to develop client care and deepen the commercial understanding of their lawyers.
A firm's ability to provide client-friendly advice can help to distinguish it from its competitors and add genuine value to the client's business. Secondments present the ideal opportunity to demonstrate a firm's loyalty and commitment to the client. Working as part of an in-house team enables firms to understand the commercial complexities the client faces day to day and therefore offer legal solutions tailored to that client. This tailored advice ultimately leads to higher levels of client satisfaction, while providing a valuable additional resource to busy in-house legal teams.
For trainees and lawyers client secondments provide a valuable insight into individual business environments - they can experience the internal functions of a major client and start to understand what is important to that client in the commercial world.
Lawyers will experience the pressures their clients face first-hand and will gain a stronger knowledge of the market in which they operate, as well as what they look for from their external legal advisers. Working as a member of an in-house team also results in solid working relationships, which will carry through after the secondments end.
Secondments also provide trainees with a variety of extremely rewarding work in addition to the practice area experience they gain through their seat allocations during their training contracts.
One Lovells lawyer recently said: "The work for which I was responsible touched on every aspect of the law, from resolving smaller disputes and advising on consumer law issues to dealing with trusts and property matters. Every day was different. As a secondee you have a great deal of responsibility and that's enormously rewarding."
For trainees in particular secondments are a valuable addition to their training programmes. The client will often rely on the trainee to advise on a myriad of issues as they arise, putting their academic knowledge and practical training to immediate use. As their ability to provide accurate, commercially aware advice develops, confidence levels increase. Many trainees value the fact that secondments allow a high level of responsibility and autonomy as they have the opportunity to take the lead on a variety of matters.
At Lovells trainees have the opportunity to request secondments that relate to the areas of law they wish to practise when they qualify, again increasing the commercial value of secondments. The firm currently seconds trainees to banks, insurers, motor manufacturers, charities and companies.
For example, Michael Stancombe, client partner for the John Lewis secondment, stated: "I've yet to see anyone who hasn't benefited from the experience. Indeed, trainees return to the firm from client secondments with greater confidence, maturity, commercial awareness and professionalism, all of which help prepare them for the rest of their careers."
As law firms become increasingly international, secondments outside London are becoming an integral part of most firms' secondment programmes. It is important for trainees and lawyers to understand the international nature of business and the differences in legal practices in some of the major jurisdictions in which their firms operate.
The ability to offer legal advice on an international level and to have an understanding of the cultural differences in other business and legal environments is something clients have come to expect from their legal advisers, and therefore is an increasingly important element of a lawyer's training.
These international secondments also allow lawyers to get to know colleagues in other offices, which helps communication and collegiality within firms - a real benefit as firms become larger and more international.