Secondments: Everything Old is New Again

A brand new term, secondments, the transfer of employees from one organization to another on a temporary basis has sprung up in the corporate world.  The reality is, this lending of employees from law firms to in-house legal departments is not anything that’s brand new.  It’s been going on for years.

However, recently, secondments are gaining popularity with U.S. firms, as described in this National Law Journal article, Firms Lend Associates to Clients.  Historically used by London firms and their U.K. clients, U.S. firms are fast realizing that secondments offer a way to cement relationships between law firms and their clients, and to give associates a better understanding of the clients’ needs.

Paralegals have worked as secondments for years now.  It is not unusual to have a law firm paralegal go to work either on a full-time, part-time or project basis at the client’s location, particularly when working on discovery, document productions, corporate minute books or other document intensive projects. 

According to the National Law Journal, many of the firms that have instituted secondments have a global practice.  By sending attorneys to the offices of overseas clients, firms can reinforce an otherwise long-distance relationship.  And for associates, spending time in another country working essentially as an in-house counsel, offers a break from traditional law firm practice.  Working in-house also teaches associates about how to be more responsive to clients’ needs.  Sherry Scott, an associate quoted in the article, learned from her secondment experience about the importance of giving clients enough lead time to respond to discovery requests because the information gathering process takes longer than she had imagined.

With all the noise about recent layoffs in response to the real estate crisis, this seems to be a good plan to hold law firm employees in place until the economy comes back up.  As noted, the downside is that people may prefer the client to the firm.  In that case, surely a tighter bond with the firm is established.