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With an increasingly global legal market, overseas placements are a growing phenomenon in many law firms. Such opportunities are not restricted to senior lawyers but are increasingly open to trainees. For many graduates, international opportunities are a very important factor in career development. But before jetting off to exotic locations, it is worth thinking about what you hope, and can realistically expect, to get out of your time overseas, and how the placement fits into your overall career plan.
Trainees who have spent time overseas report benefits such as increased confidence in dealing with matters independently and enjoying more direct client contact than may be possible in a larger London office. On a personal development basis you may learn to think more flexibly about alternative methods of approaching problems and become more experienced working in a diverse, small-team environment.
One of the complaints often heard from overseas offices is that London-based staff do not always have an understanding of global business issues or an appreciation of the services they offer. A placement in the early stages of your career may help you to develop this awareness and understanding. It may also help you to forge relationships which will be useful to you when you return to the London office.
You will need to think carefully about when you go overseas. The majority of trainees go for six months in their final year of training. By this stage secondees are more settled in to working life, they understand better how the firm operates and have gained some good technical experience in their first year of training. If you choose to spend the final six months of training overseas you will need to be fully aware of the procedures/criteria for applying for newly qualified jobs in the firm so that you do not miss out on any opportunities. If you know before you move overseas that you wish to qualify into a particular London department, it would not hurt to make your preferences known.
The majority of trainee seats last for six months, but some offices may prefer you either to spend a year of your training contract overseas, or to spend a final seat of training overseas and then to qualify into the overseas office. This gives individuals more time to settle in to their overseas roles and to build quality relationships with local staff and clients. Before you agree to this you should consider the seat opportunities that you wish to benefit from in the UK and whether you are prepared to sacrifice some of these. If you are desperate to undertake specific seats in the UK, you should consider whether you would prefer to spend your training contract in London and to undertake a placement overseas at a later stage when you have gained more technical experience. In most firms where trainee overseas placements are offered, there is an even greater need for qualified lawyers to be seconded overseas. These secondments can be for a few weeks or months to assist in a hectic period, or to work on a specific transaction that you have been involved in from London. Equally, they could be for a few years or you could chose to spend your career overseas, moving between offices. You will also need to consider your personal circumstances and how long you are willing to spend time away from the UK.
If you wish to qualify into a London department which conducts mainly domestic work, you may need to consider how your overseas experience will be viewed when compared to other trainees who have greater domestic experience.
Selecting the right environment for your development is also important. You should consider the type of work undertaken by the office, how easy you believe it will be for you to adapt culturally to the local office and what, if any, language level is required for the placement. Not everyone is suited to working overseas - feedback from local offices suggests that it requires individuals who are self-assured, open-minded, genuinely keen to learn from other cultures, adaptable and strong team-players who are prepared to muck in. Enthusiasm for the overseas placement is also considered key - it would be unhelpful to you and your team overseas to accept a secondment if you are not fully committed to getting the most out of the work and social experience. n
Nicola Graham is a recruitment officer at Denton Wilde Sapte