Emily Callaghan discusses secondments and how to get the most out of going on placement as part of your traineeship. 

When applying for a traineeship, one of the many things you may think about is whether a firm offers a secondment. For me, I had only been a trainee for a few months when the opportunity arose to go on secondment and I jumped at the chance. Naturally, I was apprehensive and wondered what I should do to prepare. Hopefully, with my top ten tips you will feel prepared and ready for your secondment!

But first, what exactly is a secondment?   

For most law firms, a secondment involves spending a period of time away from your firm and joining the ‘in-house legal team’ of a client. In-house lawyers are qualified solicitors who are employed by the organisation you are seconded to.

A secondment affords the opportunity to ‘live and breathe’ an organisation, experiencing first-hand its particular industry and allows you to understand the risks and challenges it faces.

What are my top tips for a successful secondment?

1. Research the firm you are joining

This helps you hit the ground running by giving you an awareness of key people and key departments. If your firm has sent previous trainees on secondment to the organisation you are going to, talk to them! From giving you an insight into the type of work they did, or what the lunch arrangements are, their experience will be invaluable to you.

2. Speak to your firm, it may be able to provide you with a laptop or remote access

I was given a laptop, which was invaluable to me. This allowed me to stay connected and access all the resources I would have if I were in the office. I also knew that if I had any queries I could contact Brodies. I sent a fortnightly update to my team detailing the work I was helping with and they were able to provide support and assistance when required.

3. Maintain contact with other trainees at your firm

Attend training or trainee events. These relationships will help you settle back in to your office when you return from secondment.

4.    If your firm normally sends weekly or daily legal updates, ask that these updates are sent to you whilst you are on secondment

In particular, ask for the updates that are most relevant to your client’s industry or the type of team you are working with. As well as increasing your knowledge, it demonstrates to the client that your firm is interested in its industry and willing to assist in any way.

5. Treat the secondment as an opportunity for business development

You are on secondment to represent your firm. This means that as well as providing legal advice, you should look for ways to promote your firm including sharing legal updates or sharing details of seminars that your firm is hosting. You never know, this may lead to further opportunities for your firm!

6. Keep your ears to the ground and be responsive

If you hear that your client has a need for training in a particular area, this could present an opportunity for you and your firm to deliver training to in-house solicitors.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Either to your firm or to the person you are working for on secondment! On the same token, I know it goes without saying, but always offer to help. No task is too big or too small and sometimes what you might think are small tasks are the ones that get recognised and remembered!

8. Grow your personal network

Meet as many people as you can and connect on LinkedIn. Stay in touch after your secondment has finished, by email or by meeting for coffee. The relationships you build on secondment will undoubtedly benefit your career, your firm and your client.

9. Prepare a ‘Trainee Secondment Guide’ on your return

When you return from secondment, if your firm doesn’t have a ‘Trainee Secondment Guide’ filled with hints and tips, it may be a good idea to prepare one. When I returned from secondment, I prepared a guide for the next trainee and covered the following areas:

  • facts about the organisation
  • the structure of the organisation
  • key people
  • key tasks
  • housekeeping before going on secondment
  • housekeeping whilst on secondment
  • tips and final words.

If your firm already has a guide, it is a good idea to update it for the next trainee. This will allow the next trainee to demonstrate continuity to the organisation they are seconded to.

10. Finally, you are on secondment because your firm believes in you, don’t forget to have fun!

For me my secondment was a fantastic experience. The team I was seconded to made me feel very welcome and while I was looking forward to returning to my office, I was very sad to leave people I had met! My confidence increased massively and I felt proud to be told that the client had given great feedback about my performance. I have no doubt that the skills and confidence I gained on secondment will benefit my clients and me throughout my legal career.

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