Catherine Maddox, Solicitor, Bevan Brittan
‘I was lucky enough to be offered a secondment to the Brussels office of the UK Law Societies for six months in the summer of 2014.
My employer at the time, the London Borough of Lambeth, generously supported my application and in the autumn, my Belgian adventure began.
Arriving in Brussels, overloaded with multiple suitcases, (entirely the fault of Eurostar for not imposing a tighter luggage allowance) and a pitiful knowledge of French, was a daunting prospect. However, I soon felt at home in my accommodation, a friendly shared house with a mix of stagiaires (EU commission trainees/interns) and junior employees from various embassies. During my first few weeks in the Brussels office, the welcoming policy advisers went the extra mile to ensure that all the trainees were settled into their new country and the real work began!
My day to day work as a trainee in the Brussels office involved assisting policy advisors with their responses to legislative proposals and policy developments and keeping abreast of developments within different practice areas. During my time there I was encouraged to select and work on policy areas of particular interest (public procurement, in my case), and also given opportunities to learn about new practice areas which I would not otherwise have covered in my training contract. During my secondment, the commissioner-designate hearings were held, with each policy area monitored and reported on by a trainee, providing written updates for members of the UK Law Societies. Trainees’ writing and drafting skills were put to good use, with each trainee taking turns to edit the Brussels Agenda, a monthly publication of EU policy developments with a wide readership, checking style consistency, ensuring a variety of topics and considering the relevance of articles to subscribers.
Observing EU parliament meetings first hand was particularly informative and understanding more about the ins and outs of the lobbying processes and the complex network of different groups involved with the EU institutions was a rewarding learning experience. Of particular interest was the trainees’ group trip to the Court of Justice of the European Union, where we had the opportunity to meet and ask questions of AG Eleanor Sharpston QC and observe part of a CJEU hearing.
A trainee’s life when seconded to Brussels is far from lonely, not only are there usually several trainees at any one time in the Brussels office, it is also the responsibility of the Joint UK Law Societies’ office trainees to organise weekly social events. UK trainees seconded to the Brussels offices of their firms may be the only trainee in that office, however they can meet others in the same situation, developing lasting friendships and a slightly hectic social calendar.
Overall, my secondment offered a unique combination of fascinating policy work and a chance to live abroad in an interesting and welcoming city. Moments of terror when attempting to answer the office phone with only a smattering of French were easily outweighed by lunchtime walks in beautiful Parc du Cinquantenaire and the office tradition of Friday morning pastries. The effort that the UK Law Societies’ Joint Brussels office staff put in to make sure we had a rewarding and enjoyable time working in the Brussels office was clear, and overall, this is a secondment which I would definitely recommend.’