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Different cultures, different projects: Life on international secondment with a Magic Circle law firm

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Time overseas is a prized opportunity among trainees. But what is it actually like, how much support are secondees given and what are the high points and challenges? We asked two A&O secondees about their experiences so far

Tokyo and Hong Kong

The chance to spend time in an international office is always a popular choice and the majority of Allen & Overy (A&O) trainees in their fourth seat will get the opportunity to go on an international secondment. To get the lowdown on what the experience is really like, Legal Cheek spoke to two A&O trainees, Mercy Hadfield and Adam Janmohamed, about their secondment overseas. Here’s what they had to say.

A&O trainees Mercy Hadfield and Adam Janmohamed

Which A&O office are you currently on secondment to and what type of work does this office specialise in?

Mercy Hadfield: I am in the Tokyo office. The Tokyo office has both a banking and a corporate department, and I sit in the banking department. The banking department does some general banking work but specialises in project finance.

Adam Janmohamed: I am on secondment to the arbitration team in Hong Kong. The office is involved in a broad range of work across the vast majority of A&O’s core service offerings (banking; corporate; international capital markets & litigation).

What types of work have you been involved in during your secondment and can you briefly describe a typical day in the office?

Hadfield: So far I have had a really broad range of work. I have been involved in preparing issues lists for an exciting solar project, which involved reviewing some facility agreements and some other ancillary documents. I have also done some commercial research, and am currently working on some business development work on green hydrogen plants.

Janmohamed: It’s quite early on in my seat here. Having said that, I’ve been involved in substantive tasks early on, including: reviewing our submissions for arbitral proceedings; offering and turning comments on these; researching points of law; and checking our reference to jurisprudence is correct. As we speak, I’m currently researching whether the doctrine of res judicata can be used as a sword to block a claimant from referring a case that has already been reviewed by one arbitral tribunal to a second tribunal either on ‘admissibility’ or ‘jurisdictional’ grounds — it can get quite technical!

Having said that there are definitely administrative tasks that need to be done as a trainee and although I sometimes put these off, they can be a welcome break throughout the day.

Applications for Allen & Overy's Winter Vacation Scheme 2022 close on Friday 14 October

What support was provided by A&O during the relocation?

Hadfield: A&O helped me get my working visa, book my flights and set me up in accommodation in Tokyo. The process was really painless.

Janmohamed: A&O have been fantastic throughout the process, we’ve been given very generous accommodation, a daily stipend and had countless talks on the administrative hoops to jump through (changing of health and dental insurance, tax issues, Covid-19 arrival regulations here in Hong Kong).

Yvonne Lee and Kenneth Ng from the Global Mobility HR team have been thoroughly involved in successfully organising our secondment here (obtaining our VISA and Letters of no objection from the Hong Kong Law Society). They have also been on hand at all times to answer all sorts of questions ranging from the pros and cons of setting up a HK bank account to Covid-19 regulations in situ at the moment.

What are some of the benefits of the international experience?

Hadfield: It has been great to see the strength of A&O’s international network. The Tokyo office is not just a satellite office to London — it has an independent practice while maintaining strong cultural and brand ties to the London office. It has been interesting to see what is the same and what is different.

Janmohamed: As with any international working trip I have been lucky enough to experience, it’s a window into a new working culture. Not only is that useful to broaden your skillset but it makes you realise how best to work with international colleagues. It makes you realise A&O truly is international.

I’m currently working with the Paris and Shanghai teams on certain deals and it’s been a great insight into the different ways of working and how best to work internationally. For example, Parisian associates will often send me work late in their evening so that I pick it up first thing in the morning and then I can spend the day uninterrupted to deliver them their request. That also works the other way round, they then have ample time to review.

What have been the highlights so far?

Hadfield: Professionally the highlight has been working on new types of projects that I never had the chance to work on in London. Personally, it has been amazing to be able to explore Tokyo. I went to a Tokyo Yakult Swallows baseball game last weekend and that was amazing.

Janmohamed: The office here is phenomenal; I have a standing desk and a view over the harbour. Everyone has been so friendly and welcoming and I’ve lost count of the gifts I’ve received on joining (mooncakes, tea, chilly bottles, branded face masks — not sure about that one to be honest!).

We’ve also been lucky enough to be introduced to other trainees from different firms here which has been great for organising social activities on the weekends. It looks like a long hike and post-hike beer might become the Saturday plan of choice.

Finally, the apartments are amazing. They are so well located (15-minute walk to work) and very central. They are also serviced daily and coming home to a spotless flat never gets old. I’ve also received another mooncake from my cleaner (definitely got to watch my weight here).

What challenges have you faced?

Hadfield: The first week was tough in terms of balancing the jet lag while still having to work a full week in a fast-paced team.

Janmohamed: No particular challenges so far aside from the initial Covid-19 quarantine requirements.

Before you left, what preparation were you given by A&O?

Hadfield: A&O have a global mobility team who are on hand to help with practical questions about the move, and we were briefed on tax implications and on our insurance. We were also given access to resources to learn about different working cultures.

What was your first week like?

Hadfield: I arrived on Saturday evening into Tokyo, and then had Sunday to try and get a bit settled. That first work week was exciting but tiring. I definitely struggled with jet lag and felt really discombobulated for a few days. However, the team were very understanding and welcoming. We had a lovely welcome lunch and then had a great social on the Friday to round out the week.

Janmohamed: Due to Covid-19 requirements, we had to quarantine in a hotel with very futuristic service and testing requirements. You had to do a lateral flow test every day and upload your results on to a website for 10 days and also do a PCR test five times, but it’s definitely been worth it. Work was a welcome distraction during this initial period as the training was catered for us and was online.

Applications for Allen & Overy's Winter Vacation Scheme 2022 close on Friday 14 October

Find out more from a panel of A&O partner, trainee and associates currently working in New York, Singapore, Paris, Dubai and London, at a virtual student event, ‘Meeting our lawyers working internationally’, tomorrow (Wednesday, 21 September). Secure your place now.

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