International secondments: an integral part of associate training at Noerr

Dr. Thomas Thalhofer | Partner | Media, IP & IT | Munich: Thomas Thalhofer

A secondment to the legal department at Microsoft's group headquarters. This sounds like an IT lawyer's dream, and for me it came true from late March to early July 2010. In Redmond, a suburb of Seattle (US state of Washington), I – an expert in IT law from Munich – got to know the Microsoft Campus and its inhabitants at close quarters.

What is the significance of a secondment? 

Secondments to clients are an ideal and particularly exciting opportunity to find out at first hand what the client expects from "his" legal adviser. The ability to understand his perspective is a decisive factor in a successful legal career. International secondments (3 to 6 months) are considered for Noerr associates from the third year of their career. The aim is to deepen a young lawyer's understanding of foreign and international legal and tax issues. A prerequisite, therefore, is an excellent knowledge of the relevant foreign language(s). However, a secondee also goes out as an ambassador for Noerr: his task is to strengthen Noerr's international network of contacts with foreign law firms and companies; he does a lot to establish Noerr's position and image in the eyes of foreign colleagues and clients.

Where can secondments be made? 
Essentially, secondments take place with Noerr's international clients and international partner law firms. Noerr maintains an active exchange of secondees with many of its partner law firms, especially in the Anglo-American legal area – but international clients, too, appreciate support from the legal department.

How does a Noerr associate obtain a secondment?
The partners responsible for international secondments centrally are available to talk about the various opportunities. For coordination and support in specific cases, the personnel department provides active assistance. The partners in the particular field in which the associate works also help in finding a placement. The choice of placement naturally takes account of the wishes of the individual associate.

What are the financial arrangements? 
For an international secondment, the associate's existing salary continues to be paid, and the costs of return travel and accommodation are covered. In addition, for a period of up to three months a lump sum is paid for additional subsistence expenses.

Why do it?
Three to six months with a partner law firm or a company offer the perfect platform for developing an associate’s understanding of our international clients' thinking. By moving around inside a company and its corporate culture, you experience "live and in action" how they work and communicate. On a secondment to a partner law firm, you learn how cooperation between renowned law firms functions at the international level.

Last but not least, a secondment is usually also great fun. Working hours for secondees are usually quite moderate, and this encourages you to get to know the country and its people and to explore the tourist sights of your host country. Often, your local colleagues will also show you parts of the country that are off the tourist trail, and you can also establish new contacts privately. A lengthy stay in a foreign country also broadens your personal horizons and your own ability to communicate with different cultures. An international secondment is merely one element in Noerr's systematic approach to staff development.

What else is important for the success of a secondment? 
Even before you go on a secondment, you need to find out as much as you can about local conditions. Openness and initiative, both generally and in relation to communication, are also decisive for the success of a secondment. Finally, I can only encourage you to make the most of your weekends and, if possible, do something on your own to get to know the country and its people.