You learn a lot of things during law school, but not always about the opportunities you will have once you join a firm. One of those opportunities is what’s called a secondment. What is a secondment? It is an arrangement where an associate is placed on a temporary assignment at another organization while still being employed by the firm.[i] These arrangements can benefit both the firm, the client, and the associate. Secondments can be full or part time and can last varying lengths of time, from a few weeks up to a year. Typical arrangements call for the associate to go and work with the other organization due to a particular need of that entity. In some cases, the other organization is unable to hire out to meet the need themselves, so the firm provides the client with the necessary talent to meet the client’s needs.
Pros of a Secondment
There are many positive outcomes to a secondment arrangement. For the firm, allowing an associate to meet a client need makes for a happy client. When the client is happy, the firm is happy! The firm also benefits by expanding the knowledge base of the associate. Associates are often able to hone their skills while working outside the firm—building strong client relationships, developing soft business skills, and providing a valuable service to the client. Secondments can also be utilized by a firm to support pro bono and public interest efforts. Loaning out associates to understaffed non-profit organizations allows a firm to fulfill their obligations to provide public service within the legal community.
In the current legal climate, secondments can also keep attorneys busy when work is slow at a firm or in a practice group. Secondments can help organizations be more flexible by enabling them to move employees around the organization to meet changing needs or to fill temporary vacancies. Rather than hiring new employees, organizations can use existing relationships with firms who already have knowledge of the company's operations. Lawyers can also expand their networks and open doors for future career opportunities by gaining new experiences, expanding their networks, and building relationships with colleagues in different parts of the organization. A secondment allows associates to develop new skills by working in a different role within the client’s organization. They can gain exposure to new ideas, ways of working, and knowledge of the business, which they can bring back to their original firm and can apply to their work.
Increased motivation and engagement are also benefits to participating in a secondment. Associates can reinvigorate their career and fight burnout by working directly for a client and getting out of the daily grind at the firm. The change of scenery and pace can provide a new challenge and sense of purpose. Working at the client organization can also help to break up the monotony of their daily routine and allow an in-depth focus on one particular client. A secondment can even lead to an in-house opportunity for some associates.
Overall, secondments can be a valuable tool for career development and organizational growth, as they provide associates with the opportunity to gain new experiences, develop new skills, and build relationships with colleagues and clients.
Cons of Secondments
While secondments can have many potential benefits, there are also some potential drawbacks and challenges to consider.[ii] A secondment can be a significant change for an associate, and they may not know what to expect in their new role. Taking a secondment may also make an associate unsure about their future within the firm, which can lead to anxiety and stress.
The additional workload and responsibilities of a secondment can put a strain on an associate’s mental and physical health, leading to burnout, especially if the secondment is a part-time position. Losing a valuable associate to a secondment can also strain and stress the law firm. Lost revenue from the associate can cost a firm hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run. It can effect overall productivity, too. Being down an associate may benefit the client but cause workflow disruption at the firm. Losing the services of talented associates does not come without costs to the firm. From the client perspective, adding an associate to the team can have a steep learning curve, too. Lawyers who are not used to working for a corporation or a government entity will have to learn quickly for the arrangement to be productive.
Associates can also feel the stress of being away from their normal tasks. Being away from their original team or department for an extended period can cause strain on relationships and communication, which can be difficult to navigate. It can also set an associate back by losing valuable face time within the firm and on important firm matters. Often, those on secondment may not have access to the same support networks, resources, or training as they did in their original role, which can hinder their ability to perform effectively. Associates may also find it difficult to reintegrate into their original role or department after being away on secondment, particularly if there have been changes in the team or organization in their absence. Business generation can also stagnate while on secondment. Culture shock can also be a concern. Secondments that involve working in a different country or culture can be a challenge for some, particularly if they are not used to working in a different language or with different customs. The change in the type of work can also be a challenge. Limiting yourself to one client can become tedious and monotonous after working on several projects at a time.
Overall, while secondments can offer many benefits, it's important to carefully consider the potential drawbacks and challenges before embarking on a secondment for both the firm and the associate. Firms should provide adequate support and resources to help associates navigate these challenges and ensure that they and the client have a positive experience.
[ii] (2021, July 21). The Secondment Trap: When Should Law Firms, Legal Departments & Attorneys Avoid a Traditional Law Firm Secondment? https://www.natlawreview.com/article/secondment-trap-when-should-law-firms-legal-departments-attorneys-avoid-traditional
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