Since he signed up for a law degree that included a year abroad, international work has been one of Simon Connor's ambitions. He's currently on the fourth and final six-month leg of his two-year training contract at global law firm Mayer Brown, and has recently returned from getting a taste of overseas action on a secondment to the firm's New York office.
Global clients, global firm
"The prospect of international work, and the opportunity to undertake secondments in New York, Hong Kong or Paris at Mayer Brown were significant reasons why I applied to the firm for my training contract," he tells me. "Working in the New York office in particular gave me great exposure to the truly international nature of the firm's practices. Not only did most of my work have an international element, but I was also operating alongside foreign-trained lawyers and secondees from other countries around the world. The diversity of my colleagues' backgrounds and the variety in my work really got to the heart of what makes Mayer Brown a global operation."
In New York, Simon was placed in the finance group, and he'd already got a taste of what the work here would be like by completing a similar six-month seat in London. In fact, his training in English law stood him in good stead on the other side of the Atlantic. "English lawyers are highly-regarded over there. I was doing mostly transactional work and, because English law is often used for international deals, I was able to provide a lot of assistance to clients, despite not being able to advise on US law."
For the duration of his secondment Simon felt, and was treated like, a New York employee. But that's not to say he didn't stay in touch with people back in London. "There was frequent contact through email and conference calls. The firm does a lot of cross-border work where clients require both New York and London support, and it was clear the two offices have a very strong relationship."
Although Simon felt at home with the work, and found his English law experience put to good use, one major difference between the offices proved at once a challenge and a great opportunity. "In the US the concept of a trainee doesn't exist. You're treated as a junior associate, and as a result you get a lot more independence and a higher level of responsibility. You often directly liaise with clients and manage matters yourself under the general supervision of partners and senior associates. I was expected to independently take on work and only report back as necessary."
Alongside his increased responsibility in the workplace, the New York secondment required the same independent spirit in his day-to-day life. "Mayer Brown only sends one person to New York, so it can be quite a transition from larger intakes in London, but my New York colleagues helped me quickly settle into the city. Also, all the City law firms with trainees in New York liaise and put you in contact with each other and it was good to be able to speak to people in the same boat as me."
"I was very lucky on the social side," adds Simon. "In fact, I was around at the same time as all the American summer interns and, as part of welcoming them to the firm, I was invited to attend a variety of great events across the city. We went to a baseball game at the Yankee Stadium and had personalised trainers designed for us at the Nike store. I also managed to organise a trip to the first ever football game at the Yankee Stadium and saw Chelsea, my team, play Paris Saint-Germain. It was a great opportunity to teach a group of my colleagues about the world of 'soccer'."
When pressed to settle on the standout features of his international seat, Simon finds it hard to choose. "I've made some great friends from my time working over there, which was a real highlight. But I also value the incredible opportunities I had to prove myself professionally. The responsibility and the level of exposure to clients was something you don't always get at a trainee level at some firms. It was a big step up for me, and I think it really helped me in my career."
Simon is happy to admit that there were some things that pulled him out of his comfort zone: "There were times when I was expected to do things that were totally new to me, which was sometimes quite stressful, but I learned from these moments and appreciated the positive client and internal feedback I received at the end of transactions."
He has also discovered that, as well as being rewarding in its own right, going for an international secondment, particularly in a flagship office like New York, is a move that sets you up for great opportunities further on in your career. "New York is a very prestigious international office and is particularly renowned for finance work, so it's certainly beneficial having such experience on your CV. And, whatever foreign office you may be seconded to, you'll make valuable connections within the firm so you'll know who to refer work to and will inevitably have work referred to you as well."
"What I'd say to anyone interested in practising international law is that working abroad made it clear to me how truly global commercial law is. There's potential in this career to work all across the world."
The diary of... a current New York secondee at Mayer Brown
Marcus Walsh is a trainee spending six months at the firm's Manhattan office. After a busy couple of days, he let The Gateway peek into his diary
I check my BlackBerry and skim through any emails which have come in overnight. I don't respond to anything yet, but I always like to know what's waiting for me when I get to the office and whether it will be a busy morning.
I arrive at the office and go through my emails fully; filing, flagging and replying. Nothing very urgent has come up, so I go through my to-do list and have a look at my appointments: a departmental training lunch and a conference call in the afternoon on a document we've been asked to draft.
I have two emails from colleagues back in London. Because of the time difference, there's a narrow window to reply to these in enough time to get a response. One is about a mining finance deal I worked on back in London, and the other is from a fellow trainee who wants to know whether I managed to survive superstorm Sandy (I did).
A client has emailed comments on a document in a railway finance deal which we're handling. The associate drops by to ask me to review the comments and update the prospectus, the document that describes the deal to potential investors.
I get to work drafting a security agreement for an aircraft financing deal. Our client is a bank lending money to an aviation company to buy a new fleet of private jets - the security agreement will give them rights over the fleet that they can exercise if the aviation company fails to repay the debt. Being given responsibility for drafting the security agreement is a great opportunity: it's my first time on this sort of deal, and as a trainee you don't often get to draft a full agreement. It's common for junior lawyers to get more drafting responsibility in New York, so I'm trying to do as much as possible while I'm here.
I head to the conference room where most of the department has gathered for lunch and a talk on recent developments in secured lending transactions. There's a video link-up with our offices in Chicago, Houston, Charlotte and London. Much of the talk is quite technical, but there are a few important points for the junior lawyers, too. Everyone is on good form because one of the associates has arranged specialist catering - some very tasty food from his native Lebanon.
I spend the rest of the day working on drafting the security agreement, taking a half-hour break for the conference call. Once I've finished, I send it to the associate and am released for the evening.
Getting out at a reasonable hour means I have time to take a walk down Broadway and into Times Square. It makes me think of Piccadilly Circus and I phone a friend back in London for a chat.
The associate has already come back with comments on my security agreement, and wants to send it out before the weekend, so I get to the office a little earlier to get a head start.
The security agreement is sent out and I meet up with some of the other associates for lunch. I'm told I've been brought to the best ramen restaurant in New York. We chat about work, the presidential election and the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. A lot of the associates live in downtown Manhattan and have been without power and water all week - apparently it makes staying late at the office a lot more attractive!
Back at my desk and checking emails. I'm coordinating the signing of an agreement with 15 signatories, many of them in the Caribbean. I didn't work on the deal originally, but this isn't too difficult a task.
I spend about half an hour on the phone to the client, who has some questions. I search the documents for the answers and drop a quick email to the partner in charge, who's currently stranded in Europe. He responds quickly, and agrees with my conclusions, so I call the client back.
My supervisor (also travelling) phones in to see how I'm doing. He's also involved in the railway deal, so we chat about that for a little bit. We arrange to meet for a drink once he gets back to New York.
I don't share an office with my supervisor so he makes a particular effort to drop by or meet up with me often. Having my own office is a pleasant novelty and it can be easier to concentrate if I'm doing something difficult, although it's easy to be distracted by the view of the Manhattan skyline from my window.
I go to meet a partner for instructions on drafting another document for the aircraft deal. This is a solid piece of work, but he emphasises that he doesn't expect me to have it drafted that evening. I'm grateful for the extra time, but I still get to work on it once I'm back at my desk. Today is Friday, and you never know what might come in over the weekend - the last thing you want to face on Monday morning is a huge backlog.
The New York Bar Exam results have been released and a group of the newly qualified associates are going out. We head to a nearby bar to celebrate.