My secondment to Munich

Freshfields trainee Cian Mansfield explains to Hannah Langworth how an international client secondment helped him develop as a lawyer

I chose to do a secondment abroad because I wanted to get a sense of how clients think, so that I could become a better lawyer. When youre working at a major international law firm like Freshfields, itÂ's easy to believe that your work on the English law aspects of a transaction or situation is the most important part of the project. But when you go to work for a client, you realise there'Â's a risk that lawyers and legal work can be regarded as slowing down transactions or the day-to-day running of a business. My secondment abroad taught me a lot about how lawyers fit into the broader business world and how we can work effectively with clients. I experienced the work Freshfields does in a different way, and it really opened my eyes.

Big business

As an undergraduate, I studied law at University College, Dublin, with a year in Switzerland. I then did an LLM in Cambridge, where I applied for a training contract at Freshfields. IÂ'd decided I wanted to work on front-page transactions and disputes, the biggest and most complicated matters, and I knew that a large international law firm like Freshfields was the place to do so.

After my first six months as a trainee at Freshfields, I was really keen to get some client exposure and to do an international secondment. So I applied for, and was offered, three months at a major European aerospace corporation based in Munich, one of the firmÂ's clients.

While I was there, I worked in the treasury finance team, a department found in any corporate organisation that oversees the management of all its money. The client I was working for is a massive organisation with lots of smaller subsidiaries so there were a lot of intra-group guarantees and loans to deal with. There was also quite a lot of work to do with external financing Â- agreements regarding bank funding and the derivative products used by the organisation. I got very involved in the legal work, and the exposure I had to non-legal aspects of the business was also really useful and enjoyable.

The learning experience

As a trainee at Freshfields in London, you have a clearly defined relationship with your supervisor, but my supervisor in Munich gave me more independence. So I had to decide myself when I needed help or advice and had a steep learning curve, but it was a very beneficial experience for me. Advice and feedback from colleagues in London was always available, and I was also able to use the London officeÂ's research facilities.

All the work that I did in Munich was done in English, which is the language in which the vast majority of business in the international commercial world is conducted. So, as a native English speaker, I actually got to do more drafting than I would have done as a trainee in London. However, when you work abroad I think itÂ's very important to have day-to-day conversational skills. Freshfields provided me with one-on-one German tuition before I left the UK that got me up to a level where I could make small talk in the lift, order in restaurants and so on, which was really helpful.

Future destination

I found working as a lawyer in Germany really interesting Â- I learnt about the different understanding of law that lawyers have in jurisdictions that, like Germany, use civil codes, and about how the German system for training lawyers differs to the English one. And Munich was a great city to live in. It'Â's incredibly beautiful and quite small, which means itÂ''s much easier to get around than London. You have the Bavarian Lakes and the Alps on your doorstep, and at the weekends I'Â'd often take a train to the mountains and go hiking. I was in the city for Oktoberfest, which was fun, and stayed there just long enough to see the first Christmas markets open.

Now I'Â'm back in London and approaching qualification. IÂ''d like to join FreshfieldsÂ' EU competition practice, on the disputes side. Working for a big European corporation during my client secondment was a really big factor in my choice to specialise in this area. It gave me a real interest in the EU and made me want to work with the European legal system. Doing my client secondment also gave me an idea of the impact a merger clearance filing or a cartel investigation might have on a large business Â- - both require a huge amount of internal work and the possible consequences can seem intimidating for clients. So I came to see what working with lawyers on these types of project must be like for a business, which I donÂ't think I would have understood as fully if I hadnÂ't gone on my secondment. I realised that the legal work we do is important, but we have to always remember we'Â're serving our clients.

Training at Freshfields

Graduate recruits joining City law firms to train as lawyers must undertake a training contract, a two-year period spent in various teams across the firm, and potentially in overseas offices or with clients, before choosing a department to join permanently as a qualified lawyer.

Usually, a training contract at a City law firm is made up of four six-month Â"seatsÂ", but at Freshfields trainees undertake a combination of mostly three-month and sometimes six-month seats. Cian says: "Â"In my opinion itÂ''s the best way to train. You get to try everything you want to try, and to come back to seats that you'Â've enjoyed or to go to different sub-groups of general areas of work youÂ''ve enjoyed. You'Â're able to find exactly the right niche for you out of everything the firm has to offer.Â""

CianÂ's training contract

  • Three-month seat in Dispute Resolution (competition-related)
  • Three-month seat in Dispute Resolution (arbitration)
  • Three month-long international client secondment
  • Three-month seat in Corporate
  • Three-month seat in Antitrust, Competition and Trade
  • Three-month seat in Dispute Resolution (general commercial)
  • Six-month seat in Antitrust, Competition and Trade (in FreshfieldsÂ' Berlin office)