Being sent to London on secondment is a prized opportunity for associates in European firms
London is a great attraction for associates employed by European firms, giving them a chance to develop and further their careers. As an international business and finance hub, the capital offers opportunities for young lawyers to network and build their profiles.
Associates are selected to work in their firm’s representative office in London on either a temporary or permanent basis. Many, however, come for a set period, generally about two years, such as Javier Alvarez, a senior associate at Iberian firm Garrigues’ London office.
“You need a minimum of two years to get the relevant experience and get used to the market,” says Alvarez, who has been in London since the beginning of 2013.
Although there is no formal procedure, the selection process is competitive. For example, Arthur Cox associates Maeve Moran and Caroline Courtney were selected for London from a pool of 35.
For many younger lawyers, being sent to London is a big step up the career ladder. Danish firm Kromann Reumert and Irish outfit Mason Hayes & Curran both selected new office heads for their London offices recently. Mason Hayes’ Michéal Grace was sent to the City as a senior associate in September 2012 and after only seven months was promoted to the partnership in April this year.
“It came as a shock,” says Grace, who explains he was in the mix to be considered as a partner two years ago. “The exposure you get to the London market is hugely important. You’re an ambassador not only for the firm but also for your country.”
However, being in London, especially in a small office, does involve certain challenges.
“I guess you feel out of the loop with the Dublin office,” admits Grace, who also points to the challenge of getting used to living in a city than is much bigger than most European capitals, including Dublin. Like many others, Grace thinks he will eventually return home. “Ultimately I’ll go back to Dublin, but the London connection I’ve built will be part of me forever.”
Kromann Reumert’s William Kanta was appointed head of the firm’s London office in September 2012 after four months in the City. Kanta cites his ability to understand clients’ businesses and his dedication to the work, along with a cross-border deal focus, as the main reasons behind his appointment.
Kanta is enjoying – and making the best of – his time in London.
“I love living in London,” he says. “I like being in a big city. London has a lot going on, it’s a great place to be. On top of working in a law firm there are many benefits to being here, such as getting an insight into the commercial side of running the firm, developing networks and relationships, and meeting new clients.”
The main challenges for Kanta lie in developing strong relationships and on the commercial side. But he adds that although being in London is challenging, it is also interesting.
Both Grace and Kanta say business development is at the heart of what associates should be focusing on when in London.
“Never forget you’re a lawyer,” says Grace. “Fees are generated through clients, so clients are number one. There’s no point being here if you forget the basics.”
“A strong network is key,” adds Kanta. “It’s important to develop relationships with people at your own level. After all, as you yourself might be one day, they could be tomorrow’s leaders.”
Maeve Moran, Caroline Courtney
Joined: Courtney: December 2011; Moran: January 2013
Practice areas: Corporate
Arthur Cox associates Maeve Moran and Caroline Courtney say being in London is a great opportunity to network.
Moran trained in Dublin and spent three years there as an associate before coming to London.
“It’s a good chance to connect with other associates in London, building a network with other international firms,” she says.
“I spent a six-month secondment in Belfast as a trainee, which taught me the benefits of building your profile,” adds Courtney. “London is more advanced in terms of business development. Although Dublin is starting with this, it’s not as industry- or sector-focused.”
Being in London allows the duo to network with the right people.
As to how much of their work is in business development, Courtney says: “It varies. If it’s quiet, we do more of it. It depends on how much free time you can devote to it. Generally, about 10 per cent of our work is dedicated to business development.”
“A lot of it is enjoyable – you get to meet people at your own level,” adds Moran.
Courtney says: “What I’ve found particularly useful in London is joining a restructuring forum. First, there’s the knowledge you get from this, such as training, development and seminars. Second, there are the networking links that come along with it, with contacts at Spanish firms and organisations such as KPMG,”
Although the plan for Moran and Courtney is to return to Dublin in a few years, they both say they will stay in touch with London.
Joined: January 2013
Practice areas: Corporate,
“It’s good that people from different jurisdictions have the chance to come to London, where all the firms are based,” says Garrigues senior associate Javier Alvarez. “For me, London has everything you could want to develop your career – it’s a great chance for professional growth.
“The main challenge when I arrived was getting to know all the firms. London is a different world, with many top firms. Spain is a limited market, with only a few big players.”
As many clients of European firms are in London, meeting them in person is a big benefit.
“Before, I only had phone numbers and email addresses, but now I have the chance to put names to faces, which will make things much easier when I go back to Spain.”
Building relationships is key and especially so if an associate’s stay here is limited, as is Alvarez’s.
He adds that working in a smaller office is another positive, with the Garrigues London office housing a team of just six, including resident partner Ignacio Corbera Dale and two associates.
Joined: September 2012
Practice areas: Insurance, litigation
“Coming to London was a really good opportunity for me – I applied for the role and was successful thanks to my background in international
law, the subject of my degree,” says insurance and litigation associate Chiara Siciliani.
“I’m lucky that NCTM has an office in London. Working in London will complete my profile.”
London is a key market for Siciliani, whose main area of practice is in insurance law.
“London is the best place to be for a firm that, among other things, has a focus on insurance law. I work in that field and by being here I have the chance to get to know the industry better,” she says. “There are more opportunities in London than in Italy. There are more events where you can meet colleagues and clients, and talk in a way that’s different from the typical lawyer-client relationship in Italy. London is a more open culture and society.
“The difference between working in London and working in Italy is that here I’m offered the chance to work closely with our main international clients, most of whom are based in the UK. Working here allows me to have closer relationships with them, so I can get a better appreciation of their strategies and needs.”
Siciliani says her main challenge is getting used to the style of networking in London. In Italy, the culture is more office-based than in London, where many meetings happen outside the office, such as over breakfast or lunch.
Joined: November 2010
Practice areas: Corporate, restructuring, M&A
“I always thought about going abroad and mentioned it to the partners in Berlin,” says Noerr associate Isabel Schneider. “So when the London office was opened, they asked if I’d like to go. Of course, I was excited at the prospect. While the opening of the London office was a big step for the firm it was also huge step for me – the chance to go abroad and experience a different culture and language.”
Schneider’s case is quite unusual – she has been in London for three years now, despite her initial plan being to stick around for a limited time.
“At first, the intention was to leave after a couple of years,” she explains. “But I’m starting to build relationships and networks here. So it would be a shame to lose these connections. Also, I like it in London. People are very open here – it’s a marketplace for working together.”
One of the attractive features for an associate coming to London is often the much lower headcount in the office, allowing for increased exposure and a more close-knit workplace. Noerr’s London office has three partners and five lawyers.
“In Berlin I was one of many, with about 50 or 60 lawyers, but now I’m in a smaller team there are more opportunities,” says Schneider.
However, a smaller office can also pose challenges.
“Apart from struggling daily with the Tube, an initial challenge was being without the infra-structure of a larger office with lots of colleagues providing feedback,” she adds.
Another significant difference is the nature of the job. Although the practicalities of work are the same, there is more work from overseas. The split between referral and direct client work at Noerr’s London office is about 60:40.
With London being an international hub for lawyers there is also more networking.
“A great part of the job is meeting people,” says Schneider. “What’s unusual here is the high number of meetings outside the office, such as breakfast seminars and lunches. This is not so common in Berlin. Here I do it twice a week – in Berlin, once a month.
“Business development is a big part of the job as an associate here. I’d say around a quarter of my work is in business development. At the start it was hard as I was not used to it, but it’s well-structured, as we have a business development manager in London.”
Joined: June 2011
Practice areas: Corporate, employment, private client
Florian Rochat joined Swiss firm Froriep in London from a US firm in New York, which he says is a common career path.
“I have many colleagues who came to London from the US,” says Rochat. “A lot of people from US firms who have the chance to go abroad choose London.”
As many European offices in the capital deal with clients and referral work from the US, Rochat believes his experience in the US helped his appointment.
“Learning how to deal with and talk to US lawyers and being exposed to a big city environment, was certainly a factor,” says Rochat.
However, relocating from New York to London was a bit of a culture shock.
“Initially, when I joined from New York I was depressed,” he says. “London is not a 24-hour city like New York, which I was surprised about. For example, the Tube closes at midnight and the dry cleaners close early. New York caters better for lawyers working long hours.
“However, after two and a half years I can say I’m very happy here. I’m only two hours from Switzerland. London is as ‘international’ as New York, or even more so.
“Also, there are opportunities to meet lawyers from various jurisdictions at events such as seminars and cocktail events, whereas in Switzerland it’s very much – do the work and then go home. I don’t want to go back to Switzerland.”
Rochat notes the importance of developing a substantial international network.
“Mingling with associates from other countries such as Spain and Iceland is necessary if you want to succeed as a foreign associate here.”