Hi, my name is Nadia Cook. I recently moved to Brussels to participate in a secondment with the Law Societies Joint Brussels Office. I am currently working as a legal trainee for a period of 2 months.
When I am at home in Scotland, I work at Digby Brown LLP. I am currently a second-year trainee and am set to qualify as a solicitor in September 2020.
I previously studied my LLB at Abertay University Dundee, followed by my Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at Strathclyde University, Glasgow.
Why did you choose to apply for the secondment, what interested you about working at the Brussels office?
The reason I choose to apply for a secondment at the Brussels office is because I wanted to increase my knowledge of the legal environment and to ensure that when I complete my training, I am a well-rounded solicitor with a varied skill set. Due to training in a Scotland based firm, I wished to participate in a secondment to enrich my traineeship by gaining knowledge and experience of working in an international legal environment.
I wished to increase my legal understanding and training, especially at such a crucial time for the UK, given the future impact of Brexit on the legal sector. Being in the Brussels office has allowed me to be at the forefront of all recent developments and to gain a more direct and informed view of the potential effects of Brexit and many other important current legal affairs.
Finally, I wanted to challenge myself both in a personal and professional sense, by working in an international environment with new colleagues and by undertaking a new trainee role, which would allow me to increase my confidence in my legal abilities and to form an adaptable skill set.
What types of experiences have you been involved in on secondment been so far?
I am now in the third week of my secondment and have experienced so much already. I couldn’t believe it when I received an email in the first week of my traineeship to say that my Eurostar train ticket was booked and in two day’s time, I would travel to London to the Law Society to attend an EU Committee Meeting. I have met with CEO’s, directors of the Law Society, stakeholders, MEPs and many other UK trainees from other firms currently on secondment in Brussels. I have attended conferences, meetings and a hearing in the European Parliament on the Productive Liability Directive and protecting consumers in the Digital Age. Further, as a trainee we are responsible for writing and collating articles for the Brussels Agenda newsletter. Therefore, this has allowed me the opportunity so far to write articles on the Green Deal, Facial Recognition and Data Protection. We are also responsible for reporting to policy advisors on daily news, carrying out research and for drafting papers to be sent to the Law Society on specific areas of law.
In your opinion, why should employers send their trainees on secondment and what benefits will they receive?
The experience I have received so far has allowed me to look at the legal environment from an International perspective and gain a sizeable network of contacts, which I will return to my firm with following my secondment.
Undertaking a secondment allows trainees to become adaptable to new environments, therefore when returning to the UK trainees will be confident in their abilities when firms are required to implement new ways of working and software to meet new changes and legal developments. Trainees are tasked with completing research for policy advisors, which increases legal knowledge and the ability to pay attention to detail. Further, legal trainees are provided the opportunity to increase drafting skills, by writing papers for policy advisors on specific topics which range from competition law to criminal justice, public procurement and private international law.
Often, depending on the country of training, legal trainees are required to undertake a mandatory number of hours of continued professional development training. Trainees can attend relevant events in Brussels whilst on secondment, which can contribute to this required training element.
A legal trainee in the Brussels office, is required to be flexible and will be exposed to many situations whereby trainees are required to increase their skill set and awareness of new unfamiliar areas of law.
Seconded trainees, are encouraged to attend as many events, conferences, meeting and hearings as possible. Therefore, trainees can select area’s that will also be of benefit to increasing their awareness of the area and sector, which they are currently working in during their traineeship in the UK. Being on secondment will allow for trainees to gain knowledge and awareness of key developments in specific areas of law.
What advice do you have for future trainees considering applying for a secondment?
I will admit that at first, I was a bit anxious about asking my firm if they would allow me to participate in a secondment. I think that is the most difficult hurdle for a trainee to overcome, because the secondment is unpaid you require your employers consent before applying. Therefore, my advice would be to speak to your employer about the secondment and explain to them the types of transferable skills you will gain and how it will benefit you as a trainee and your firm as a business. If you don’t ask the question you will never know the answer.
When I spoke to my employer about the secondment, I provided them with testimonials from other law firms who had previously sent their trainees on secondment. I was also able to give them the trainee handbook, which explains in detail all the responsibilities and tasks trainees will undertake whilst on secondment. Antonella, the Brussels office manager, was very helpful in providing me with all the information I needed throughout the application process.
My employer was very supportive and only a few days after I enquired about the secondment, they confirmed that they would approve for me to go on secondment for 2 months. Thereafter, the partners in my office and my supervisor supported me when passing over cases to be looked after by my colleagues in the lead up to my secondment.
What is your favourite thing about Brussels?
I love so many aspects of Brussels that it is hard to pick a favourite, I really like how central everything is and the transport system makes it so easy to travel around. I have been to many museums already and have went on day trips to other beautiful cities nearby such as Ghent, Cologne, and Antwerp. Also, I can’t forget to mention my love for Brussels frites and mayo. Finally, I enjoy the social aspect of being a trainee in Brussels, as there are many trainees from other firms and departments who are on secondment in Brussels and also young generation legal events held to allow for networking between trainee solicitors.