Graduates go global: International secondments at Herbert Smith Freehills
After having been on exchange twice during my time at university, I was very keen to explore any opportunities in my professional career to work overseas. When I was presented with the chance to work in one of Herbert Smith Freehills’ international offices, I could not pass it up.
All graduates at Herbert Smith Freehills are able to apply for a six-month international secondment as part of the graduate program in either your third rotation, or as an optional fourth rotation. As part of the application process, you can choose to go to Tokyo, London, Seoul, Singapore or Hong Kong, with the practice group allocations changing every six months for each of the offices. As I had never been to Japan and had developed a strong love of sushi, I applied for the Tokyo secondment and was fortunate enough to be sent over to Japan only a few months later.
I grew so much personally and professionally during my time on secondment. I was fortunate enough to work on a range of cross border matters which helped me to develop a greater understanding of the different markets and jurisdictions in which our clients operate. When working on these matters, I collaborated with lawyers in Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, the United States and Indonesia, which exposed me to different working styles and ways of thinking. Not only was I able to expand my professional network, but I have also been able to develop my own unique working style, having adopted elements from each of the various lawyers that I worked with.
As the Tokyo office is a satellite office, I worked with smaller teams and was challenged to take on greater responsibility for some matters. This enabled me to participate in strategic discussions with senior lawyers in the team, and also allowed me to communicate directly with the client. I really valued the opportunity to have increased client contact whilst on secondment, as this is a crucial skill for junior lawyers to develop. This increased client contact helped me to develop a greater understanding of and appreciation for, cultural differences in the business context.
Although I had never spoken a word of Japanese before I arrived in Tokyo, this did not prove to be a barrier at all to undertaking high quality work whilst on secondment. To help me learn some basics, Herbert Smith Freehills organised weekly language lessons during my secondment which was very helpful. Whist I may not be fluent in Japanese now, these lessons definitely helped me to embrace the local culture and feel more at home during my time in Japan.
Living in another country on secondment also means that you have plenty of opportunities to explore on your weekends. Whilst in Tokyo I hiked Mt Fuji, explored temples in Kyoto, sang my heart out at karaoke, ate every Japanese delicacy I could find, and go-karted around the crazy Tokyo streets. I was lucky enough to share so many of these memories with the amazing friends that I met on secondment. I became close friends very quickly with the other graduates that I met from the Herbert Smith Freehills London office, as well as graduates from other London-based firms. I can happily say that these people are now friends for life.
Reflecting on the last six months, I can confidently say that my international secondment to Tokyo was by far the greatest experience in my professional career. Herbert Smith Freehills provided a very strong support network during my time away from home, and made it an incredibly valuable experience. I would highly recommend applying for an international secondment when you start as a graduate lawyer!