Bright lights beckon the best

Start spreading the news, you can be leaving today for a stint in an overseas office. Alison Beardsley knows how to be part of it. Alison Beardsley is graduate recruitment partner and training principal at Allen & Overy.

Many trainees join a big firm harbouring ambitions to spend six months of their training contract in one of its international offices. For most, the main attraction of a foreign sojourn is the goal of broadening horizons and experiencing life in a foreign country. The international secondment will provide this, but it can also offer a great deal more.

At Allen & Overy most trainees who want to will get the chance to work outside the UK during their two-year contract. They can apply after a year's work experience, stating preferred destinations, with allocations based on their experience and expectations. Not all firms give a wide choice of destination, so when applying for contracts ask about policy on working overseas and the seat allocation process.

Firms tend to welcome applications from candidates with language skills, although they are by no means essential. But if you can get by in a foreign tongue your integration into the office will be smoother. Firms usually recognise this and provide training to improve skills and vocabulary before you leave or on arrival.

However, it is your legal skills that secure your seat and these stay paramount. Regardless of where you go, you will frequently work for multinational clients who discuss contracts in English and you will often deal in English law. So unless it is your mother-tongue, it is not the best idea to test your pigeon Russian when negotiating a deal for an important client.

In nearly all cases, an international posting exceeds expectations. It is a fantastic opportunity to develop professional skills and working with English and local lawyers will expose you to different jurisdictions. You will learn about the influence of local economies and cultures on commercial decisions. You will also better understand the relationship between the London office and its global satellites, which are not merely outposts but support major deals. You will see first-hand the influence of changing market conditions on clients and their impact on demand for legal services, knowledge that is invaluable once you are qualified.

Then there is the social life, with the chance to integrate with local people and expats. Roller-blading in Central Park, a spin in the firm's junk from Kowloon or a stroll along the Champs Elysees are all great ways of spending free time. In most places there is an informal trainee network that scoops up newcomers so you will rarely feel lonely.

Finally, make no mistake – international seats are no all-expenses-paid working holiday. Trainees are expected to be responsible and assume a heavy workload. But you will return to the UK having learned a lot about what being an international lawyer really means.