One young lawyer's experience of a six month secondment during her traineeship to the Law Societies' Brussels office

If you want a traineeship with a difference, let me describe what I did on the Law Societies’ trainee secondment to Brussels.

A typical day may include attending a breakfast briefing with the Director of the European Commission’s legal service; listening to MEPs debate the proposed directive that would regulate the cross-border provision of services within the European Union; and drafting an update on the most important judgments to come from the European Courts. I’m confident it’s not your average Scottish legal trainee’s experience. Aside from the lure of spending six months working abroad, I was really attracted to the depth and breadth of work as well as experience on offer in Brussels.

The Brussels office is comprised of the Law Societies of England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Its main tasks are to represent the interests of the solicitors’ profession to EU decision makers and to provide advice and information to solicitors on EU issues. The secondment to the Brussels office is offered to trainees and counts towards six months of the traineeship.

So what did I gain from the experience? Well, spending six months in the Brussels office gave me a unique and interesting opportunity to develop my legal knowledge by gaining a deeper understanding of the workings of the EU institutions, their interrelation and how they impinge upon our domestic legal framework.

The office has a dual role: on the one hand it closely follows legislative proposals that affect the legal profession as a whole – money laundering regulations, the cross border provision of legal services, competition etc – and represents the profession’s views to EU decision makers. In addition, the office takes an active role in following a variety of legislative (and to a lesser extent non-legislative) proposals, not only relating to the internal market (competition law, financial services, company law, employment, environment) but increasingly in the realm of justice and home affairs (criminal law, asylum, immigration, civil justice etc) where the EU now has a greater competence.

In following legislative developments, I was able to attend European Parliament committee hearings where MEPs discuss proposals and produce reports on various pieces of legislation. It was this task that I dreaded the most but actually found the most rewarding. Translation problems, delayed agendas and the obscurity of some proposals (most notably the Classification of Molluscs Directive!) had to be contrasted with the genuine desire of the majority of MEPs to really scrutinise and improve legislation, take the views of various industries and bodies like the Society into account and submit sensible amendments.

The co-ordination and monitoring of EU developments across the legal spectrum is recorded in the Brussels office monthly publication. Working on The Brussels Agenda has consolidated my research skills and opened my eyes to the extent of influence that EU legislation has in so many areas of domestic law. The Law Society of England and Wales’ EU Committee meetings, held bi-monthly in the office, also afforded me an opportunity to work on certain projects, principally a companion guide to the Constitutional Treaty, with solicitors specialising in EU law, and learn from their experience and expertise.

As a trainee, I have built up real depth of experience in, and exposure to, a variety of different legal areas – certainly more than I would have discovered in a typical four-seat traineeship. Inevitably, I’ve developed particular interests in specific areas or particular proposals for legislation during my time in Brussels. Whenever possible, I was able to further this interest and carry out more detailed research and analysis. For example where the Law Societies are following specific legislative proposals (such as the revision to the Working Time Directive, or the cross border payment procedure for civil litigation), trainees can assist in drafting responses or position papers to be submitted to MEPs and other EU decision makers. I found that the office was very receptive to accommodating trainees’ interests in particular areas and getting them involved as much as possible.

Work experience aside, the Law Societies secondment gave me the chance to work and live in an exciting cosmopolitan city in the heart of Europe, which was sometimes challenging (especially in getting to grips with the language and Belgian idiosyncrasies). There were plenty of opportunities to meet like-minded people, not least other trainees working for Brussels offices of large City firms and European Commission and Parliament stagiaires. As part of the traineeship, I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone.

Next placement now on offer

The Brussels Office is now looking for trainee solicitors to undertake a six-month secondment commencing either in September 2005 or March 2006. The trainee will be involved in a range of different EU issues. Specific tasks will include attending the European Parliament, preparing and writing The Brussels Agenda, liaising with Commission officials and legal research. Trainees will need to provide a letter from their firm confirming that it will continue to pay their salary during the secondment. Applications, which should comprise a CV, covering letter and confirmation of consent from your employer, should be sent to Sarah Fleming, Head of International Relations, Law Society of Scotland, 26 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh EH3 7YR (, specifying which period is preferred. The closing date is 31 May 2005. Interviews will take place in London later in the summer. For further information please contact Sarah Fleming.

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