Originally from Warrenpoint, Co. Down, I moved to Brussels at the beginning of January to start my three month secondment with the Brussels Office. I am currently a trainee solicitor with Fisher & Fisher Solicitors, Newry and I am set to qualify in September 2020.
Why did you apply for the Brussels Office secondment?
From leaving school I had a growing interest in the area of EU Law and Policy. I studied European and International Law at the University of Sheffield and was fortunate enough to study for a year at the University of Copenhagen as part of the Erasmus Programme.
It was actually a friend of mine at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies (IPLS) who informed me about the secondment opportunity. It wasn’t very widely publicised among trainees which I think comes down to the fact that many trainees feel their employer wouldn’t agree to letting their trainee go on secondment– but I’ll come back to that later.
I felt the opportunity would be good for both me and my firm, as Fisher & Fisher’s head office is situated in Newry, Co. Down, just 5 miles from the border with the Republic of Ireland. When I applied for the secondment, exactly what was going to happen when the UK exited the EU was unknown and to an extent it still is, what I can say however, is that the impact on me and my firm will be substantial.
What does the Trainee Programme in Brussels entail?
Where to begin!?
I arrived in Brussels one month ago meaning I’m already 1/3 of the way through my time here (and hoping that time will slow down for the remaining 2 months).
The Brussels office represents interests of the UK legal profession before the EU institutions. We are responsible for helping to monitor key developments coming out of Brussels which may affect the our members and the wider legal profession. So far it’s been all hands on deck in the Brussels Office as - in the month leading up to the UK’s exit from the European Union - there has been no shortage of these.
I have also had the opportunity to attend the EU Committee Meeting in the Law Society’s office in London. I have attended meetings of the Council of the Bars and Law Societies of the European Union (CCBE) which provided an insight into negotiations between representatives of different EU delegations.
The role has also enabled me to refine my drafting, writing and researching skills as trainees are responsible for editing the Brussels Agenda, a monthly newsletter focused on developments within the EU.
In your opinion, why should employers allow trainees to apply for the secondment and what benefits will they receive?
When I was applying for the secondment, I spoke to several of my fellow trainees about the opportunity. A number of trainees expressed keen interest in the role but most of them had the same response - ‘my employer would never agree to it’. And that was the end of it. Few ever actually approached their employer about the secondment because of a fear of immediate refusal without consideration of the secondment.
I feel very lucky that Fisher & Fisher were fully supportive of my application. I recall when I approached my employer about the secondment his response was that he would never get in the way of such an amazing opportunity. And he was right. I can only speak as a trainee having spoken to others in my position but I feel that too often employers focus short term economic impact rather than the skills a trainee can bring to the firm on their return.
The secondment is an opportunity to enhance a wide array of skills which are essential to any future career in the legal profession whether your firm is a small high street practice, a city law firm or an in-house legal department. It gives trainees the chance to build on their advocacy, research and negotiating skills (to name a few) and gives them the unique opportunity to build a network of contacts within the legal and political world.
Trainees are also encouraged to pursue other projects during their time in Brussels which may be of interest to them or to their firm. Whether your firm specialises in Criminal Law, Tax Law or Media Law, Brussels is host to a number of great events with distinguished speakers in all areas of law and policy and trainees will be able to attend such events and report back to the firm.
I strongly believe that my experience at the UK Law Societies’ Joint Brussels Office will be a huge asset to both me and the firm when I return to complete my training with Fisher & Fisher Solicitors.
What advice do you have for future trainees considering applying for a secondment?
My advice to trainees is short and to the point, at the very least speak to your employer about the secondment. Outline to them the benefits it can bring not only to your own development as a legal professional but also to the benefits this in turn will bring to office. It is an amazing opportunity and you won’t regret it.
What is your favourite thing about Brussels?
I love the diversity! Brussels is home to people from all corners of the world and there is always something going on in the city and different events to go to.