Sending Trainees on a client secondment is becoming increasingly popular. Read this article to gain insight as to what it's really like to be on a client secondment and what you stand to gain by going on one.
When I first started my training contract I thought to myself "I would rather spend more time based in the firm than being out of the office, after all it is in private practice where I wish to qualify" and so did not initially seek out a secondment. Fortunately for me half way through my first seat an opportunity presented itself which meant that I was seconded out to a large automotive client where I was to be based for three months.
Initially I was a little apprehensive as I was to be the face of my firm for this client, and I had no idea what to expect, what work I would be doing or what they expected of me. Suffice to say that any nervousness completely dissipated and I felt proud to be representing the firm. If you are unsure about any aspect of the team prior to joining your secondment team, or any aspect of thw work once you are there, then always ask. It is better to ask than to go away and not be sure as to what you are doing and most people will always be happy to provide further clarification.
I very quickly felt part of the client's team, rather than just a Shoosmiths secondee, this is credit to the welcoming nature of the team I joined, but went a long way to help me feel at ease early on. I got involved in as many social events as possible and even took part in a Wolf Run to ensure I was fully integrated as a team member! In terms of the work, I felt confident knowing that I had the full support of Shoosmiths' client partner behind me and if I had any queries they were just on the other end of the phone. There were times when I used the resources of the firm to the client's disposal, this helped me get my job done (with less stress!) but also reinforced to the client that we [Shoosmiths] are happy to support in whatever way necessary.
During my time on secondment I headed up a very specific project, so rather than getting wide mix of various queries to deal with, I was heavily involved in a world-wide roll out project requiring high level negotiation and impeccable time management and organisational skills in light of time constraints. It was highly pressured but extremely rewarding at conclusion of the project when everything was done to the client's satisfaction. Working as an in-house lawyer is quite different to private practice as the pressures are different. It is important as lawyers in private practice that we are able to understand our client's needs so that we can deliver excellent results. The secondment enabled me to see things from my client's perspective and see why and how they like work done in a particular way. Depending on how much involvement you have in other areas of the client's business, you might also be able to scope out opportunities for new work for your firm which is a win-win!
It's important to maintain your own profile at your own firm whilst out of the office; continue to get involved in your usual trainee activities, challenges and attend networking events. But also whilst at the client's; when you return to your firm, you will likely be the person who the client picks the phone up to because of the relationship and trust you've built with them. It goes without saying that creating those good relationships will benefit the firm as well as your personal career.
For me, it was great returning to the office to be told that I'd done a great job and the client had spoken highly of my work which has built up my confidence for the remainder of my training contract.
What was a three-month placement was extended to eight months and I thoroughly enjoyed it! if you get the opportunity to go on a client secondment then go for it! You may spend the rest of your career doing work for clients who have in-house teams and having had some experience at working in-house will serve you well.