As globalisation is reshaping the way law is practised, international legal secondments have emerged as invaluable opportunities for lawyers seeking to broaden their horizons. This comprehensive guide aims to serve as a roadmap for aspiring UK lawyers considering international secondments as a pivotal step in their career development. From understanding the concept to navigating the intricacies of planning, this article explores the benefits, challenges, and essential considerations that come with embracing a global legal perspective.

Understanding International Secondments

An international secondment refers to a temporary assignment where a lawyer is sent to work within the offices of a foreign law firm or within the legal department of a multinational corporation. This arrangement typically lasts for a defined period, often ranging from six months to a few years. The primary goal is to expose lawyers to different legal systems, cultures, and business practices, fostering a more comprehensive understanding of the global law practices.

International secondments can be pursued either during your training contract or after achieving qualification. Trainee solicitors typically undertake a six-month international secondment, while more experienced lawyers often engage in longer-term placements, lasting a year or even more.

These secondments can take various forms, including client secondments, where lawyers work directly with the legal department of a client, or law firm secondments, where they work within the offices of a foreign law firm. The nature of the secondment depends on the arrangement between the sending and receiving entities.

Benefits and Opportunities

  • Cultural Exposure and Language Proficiency: One of the most significant advantages of international secondments is the exposure to different cultures and legal systems. This experience not only enhances cultural intelligence but can also lead to increased language proficiency, a valuable skill in an increasingly globalised legal market.
  • Professional Development: Working in diverse environments challenges lawyers to adapt and develop a broader skill set. Exposure to different legal systems and practices fosters adaptability, resourcefulness, and a deeper understanding of legal issues from a global perspective.
  • Networking and Building Relationships: International secondments offer a unique opportunity to build a global professional network. Lawyers have the chance to establish connections with legal professionals from different jurisdictions, creating a network that can be leveraged throughout their careers.
  • Personal Growth: Living and working in a foreign country can be a transformative experience. It requires individuals to step out of their comfort zones, fostering personal growth, resilience, and a more global mindset.

Take a look at this interview with Gibson Dunn trainee Jack Crichton, who tells us all about his secondment in Hong Kong!

Planning and Preparation

Embarking on an international secondment requires meticulous planning and preparation. Here are key considerations for lawyers contemplating this career move:

  1. Define Objectives: Clearly articulate your professional and personal objectives for the secondment. Whether it’s gaining expertise in a specific legal area, enhancing language skills, or broadening cultural understanding, having a clear vision will guide your choices.
  2. Research Potential Destinations: Consider the legal and cultural landscapes of potential destinations. Research the legal systems, business practices, and societal norms to ensure compatibility with your goals and preferences.
  3. Evaluate Firm Policies: Understand your law firm’s policies regarding international secondments. Some firms have established programs, while others may require you to initiate the process. Familiarise yourself with any contractual obligations and expectations.
  4. Prepare Financially: Assess the financial implications of an international secondment. Consider factors such as cost of living, housing, and potential tax implications. Establish a budget to ensure a smooth transition.
  5. Address Personal Matters: Address personal matters such as family considerations, healthcare, and legal obligations. Obtain necessary visas and permits well in advance and ensure compliance with local regulations.

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Law Firms Offering International Secondments

Several prominent law firms recognize the value of international secondments and actively promote such opportunities. Some examples include:

  • Magic Circle Firms: Leading UK law firms such as Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer have well-established international secondment programs, offering placements in their global offices.
  • US-based Firms: Many US-based law firms, such as White & Case and Baker McKenzie, have a strong international presence and actively encourage trainees and lawyers to take on international secondments.
  • Global Networks: Law firms that are part of global legal networks, such as Lex Mundi or Meritas, often facilitate international secondments for their lawyers, providing access to a vast network of firms worldwide.

Career Implications

The decision to pursue an international secondment carries significant career implications. While the benefits are substantial, there are challenges to consider:

  • International experience enhances a lawyer’s marketability. The ability to navigate diverse legal systems and cultures positions individuals as valuable assets to law firms and multinational corporations.
  • Successfully completing an international secondment can open doors to leadership positions within a firm or legal department. The skills acquired and global perspective gained are often viewed as assets in senior roles.
  • While the experience can be transformative, there is a risk of becoming disconnected from the legal landscape in the home country. Maintaining connections and staying updated on legal developments is crucial for a seamless return.
  • Returning from an international secondment may pose challenges, including readjustment to the legal practices and cultural nuances of the home country. Effective communication and integration strategies are vital during this transition.

Tips for a Successful Secondment

Thorough Research

Invest time in understanding the client, their business, and immersing yourself in the language and culture of your destination. The more you comprehend before your arrival, the better equipped you’ll be to adapt seamlessly. If your firm has a history of sending trainees to the same client, tap into their insights before and after your secondment.

Linguistic and Cultural Considerations

If English is not the native language of your destination, don’t fret about fluency expectations. In many cases, you won’t be required to speak the local language during your secondment. While experiencing some degree of “culture shock” is inevitable, embrace the opportunity to adapt. Cultural differences may lead to occasional awkward moments, but the experience will foster a newfound adaptability.

Ask Questions and Embrace Learning

Adapting to an international work environment involves a learning curve. Don’t shy away from asking questions; it’s better to seek clarification than risk making a mistake. Actively engage in your own training, recognizing that navigating the practical demands of your client and the international legal landscape requires continuous learning.

Showcase Expertise Through In-House Training

If you possess expertise in a particular legal area, explore opportunities to offer in-house training to the client’s legal staff. This not only elevates your personal profile but also adds value to your firm.

Build a Robust Network

Make the most of your international secondment by connecting with as many people as possible. This includes colleagues, clients, and professionals within the local legal community. Maintain these valuable connections even after your return, using platforms like LinkedIn to stay in touch.

Create a Trainee Secondment Guide

Consider creating a guide upon your return, especially if one doesn’t already exist in your firm. This guide should encapsulate your experiences, challenges, and lessons learned during the international secondment. Providing something of value to your firm enhances your standing, leaving behind a lasting legacy from your international venture.


International secondments offer UK lawyers transformative opportunities, fostering cultural exposure, professional growth, and extensive networking. With careful planning and consideration of career implications, lawyers can align their goals. Law firms actively support such initiatives, facilitating a more accessible path to a global legal career. Embracing challenges positions UK lawyers as versatile, culturally aware, and globally competitive professionals.


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