Second nature is seeing the world through a client's eyes

Secondments are not immediately profitable, but they benefit customer and law firm, says Sharon Wallach Customers often need someone to handle legal matters full-time. secondments allow both sides to benefit, says Sharon Wallach

The days when a solicitor could pontificate from his ivory tower are long gone, particularly in the corporate/commercial world. Now, the successful lawyer - or law firm - is one who understands the client's business as well as he does his own. In the City, as elsewhere, most if not all of the major practices second their lawyers to the industries they serve.

Typically, "secondees" are assistant solicitors with two to eight years' post-qualification experience. But in one case at least, a managing partner is undergoing the experience. John Rink, of Allen & Overy, is spending part of his working time as acting head of the legal department at British Aerospace. He is backed up by another Allen & Overy partner, seconded full-time.

According to Martin Pexton, the firm's personnel director, around 20 of Allen & Overy's 280 assistant solicitors in the London office are currently on secondment.

The process carries several benefits, he says. "From the individuals' perspective, it provides a completely different outlook on work. It also helps them, and the firm, understand what the client wants, and it strengthens links with that client."

It could be argued that there is an element of exploitation in the arrangement; that the client is getting the same service at bargain prices.

"It doesn't usually work that way," Mr Pexton says, "The pattern is of a specific slot that needs filling for a time, for example at British Aerospace. If we did feel that the client was looking for cheap legal advice, we would resist and look at our level of charging."

But Charles Dodson, joint managing partner at Lovell White Durrant, is in no doubt that secondment is exploitative. He says that the past two or three years have seen a greater demand by companies for secondees, driven in part by the same cost considerations as their lawyers.

"Clients see it as a neat way of solving the problem," he says. "It is obviously cheaper than if they were billing the firm. But we place a huge emphasis on what the client wants. The advantage from our point of view is that it helps in cementing relationships. And it is giving our lawyers a chance to see the whole business from the other side of the fence, and increases their commercial awareness."

Clifford Chance has operated a formal programme of secondment for about 10 years. Greater efficiency is the key, according to Stuart Popham, the managing partner of the firm's banking and securities group. "We find it very useful to have lawyers with experience and a greater understanding of the client's business, both generically and of the particular institution," he says. "It helps the client to use our services more efficiently, and we get to know his individual demands. It gives us greater command of forward-planning and an easy access point. All in all it creates a better relationship."

One risk that goes with seconding valuable fee-earners is their defection to the client. Mr Popham admits to losing two or three lawyers in recent years, although in the first half-dozen years of the firm's secondment programme, no one decamped.

"Without exception our lawyers enjoy secondment," he says. "Some are confirmed in their desire to stay at Clifford Chance, others use the time to discover whether they do want to work in banking, for instance." Secondment is also used for pro bono assignments - work at a law centre, for example - for training, or for the advancement of international practice.

"One of our major objectives is the entire management of major transactions in foreign jurisdictions," says Charles Dodson of Lovells. "In some jurisdictions we can meet that demand by clients, but in others, where we have no offices, such as Germany or Spain, we need to have very close links with local law firms, so that we can satisfy the client that things will run smoothly. It is absolutely crucial that our firm is one entity - secondments play an important role in ensuring that happens."

Bruce Westbrook, a partner in the oil and gas sector at Cameron Markby Hewitt, describes his firm's use of secondment in terms of providing the client with what he wants.

"At the beginning of the Nineties, work was not raining in to law firms as it did in the Eighties," he says. "We have to work harder to look for clients, get alongside them, and deliver what they want in a way that is convenient to them - that is, to reach out to them."

Cameron Markby opened an office in Aberdeen two years ago, "purely and simply to be available on the spot to oil companies and contractors.

"A good number of large companies there have legal departments that get overstretched from time to time," Mr Westbrook says. "Part of our remit is to provide an overflow service, either on a one-off basis or with specialist skills not available in-house. We found that the client was saying: `We would like to have someone dedicated to us for three months.'

"Seconding people provides us with a very valuable way of discovering how the client works, how he uses lawyers, what areas we need to gear up for the future. Secondment is useful. It is not instantly profitable, although it provides a contracted income, but it fosters relationships with clients and helps us build our business."

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

    Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Developer - Watford - £45,000 - £47,000

    £45000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / ...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Product Manager - (Financial Services) - SW London

    £35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us