Postcard from… Budapest

I am currently in the second seat of my training contract with CMS Cameron McKenna in London and all trainees have the opportunity to head abroad for a six-month secondment in one of the firm’s CEE offices. For me this was one of the things that first attracted me to the firm, the chance to spend some time in a different office, experiencing a new culture while still training. CMS currently send two London trainees to Budapest along with posts in Prague, Moscow, Bucharest, Kyiv, Sofia and Vienna.

Arriving in Budapest on a balmy evening in August, the other trainee and I spent the majority of our first weekend enjoying the city’s many restaurants and bars, feeling more like it was a holiday than the start of a secondment. It was an oddff thing to get used to at first, the fact that I was not on holiday but about to start working in one of Hungary’s most prestigious law firms, alongside trainees who all have doctorates. It’s fair to say the trainees out here go through a much more formal education than we do in the UK and as a result, they are given much more responsibility in the office, many of them fulfilling roles more related to that of an associate in London.

Hungarian trainees currently do five years at university to complete a law doctorate and then head into practice. After approximately three years of work, they have to sit a series of exams, which are studied for while training, and they remain a trainee until they pass all the exams, which normally requires an additional year. In addition, they tend to spend much longer than six months in one department, as their training is seemingly more flexible than the traditional UK training contract. While they undoubtedly go through a more rigorous training process that we do, there is a sense of frustration among some at having to sit criminal law exams while carving out a career within the world of corporate law. Nevertheless, the debate between the traditional (“all-service”) lawyer’s role and the more business-orientated UK system is an interesting one.

Outside the workplace, since arriving in Hungary I have used it as a base to travel around the CEE, taking trips to Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I have also come to learn all about the native culinary habits – mainly that most food will have a cottage cheese element to it and that any part of the animal is fair game as far as dinner is concerned – liver, tripe and trotters are all considered Hungarian haute cuisine.   

I have been surprised by both the quantity and quality of the bars and restaurants (pigs trotters aside), with the city boasting some really interesting “ruin bars” hidden down dark alleyways that wouldn’t be out of place in Shoreditch and Hoxton. In the summertime Hungarians love to eat and drink al fresco and outside bars and clubs pop up all over the city’s streets to make the most of the warm evenings. There is also a healthy supply of karaoke bars and cheesy discos for those who have a passion for Vanilla Ice and bad renditions of Celine Dion.

Hungary has been my home away from home for five months and although it’s undeniably a different pace of life from City life, it has been a great opportunity to learn about a new country and culture while simultaneously advancing my legal career. I will definitely be coming back for a visit in the future.

Amy Smart is a trainee at CMS Cameron McKenna currently on secondment in Budapest