Hitting the secondment jackpot: what it’s like to be a trainee in NYC

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By Kibbeum Kim on

New York is like “London with an umph”, says Mayer Brown trainee solicitor Kibbeum Kim, and life as a lawyer there “takes working hard and playing harder to a whole new level”.


When I got told I was going on secondment to New York, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. I didn’t realise how big the jackpot really was though until I got here. A secondment to New York is the ultimate experience for a trainee. The social dynamics are incredible (dare I say it’s London with an umph) and the work cutting edge.

As a London secondee, you sit in the finance department, a general finance group with sub-groups within it. The department offers a full range of banking and finance work, but is particularly known for its tier one practice in structured finance. I’ve been fortunate enough to help out on a structured finance deal where Mayer Brown has recently introduced a new investment product to the market — collateralised commercial papers that marry the worlds of repos and commercial papers.

New York takes working hard and playing harder to a whole new level. Working hours can be pretty intense here. A mid-level associate I’ve been doing a lot of work with billed over 320 hours last month. That equates to over 10.5 hours a day, every day (including weekends), for the whole month. It’s a miracle because whenever there’s a social event, he’s there.

In New York, you have more control over your working hours and the types of work you do than you would in London. While work sometimes finds you, usually you have to look for work. But once you’re on a deal, you become an integral member of that team, and it’s not uncommon for you to have to come in on a weekend.

The flip side, however, is that you really do get involved. There isn’t a trainee concept in the States, so you’re very much treated as a junior associate. You’re expected to liaise with clients directly, draft documents and manage closings. It’s a step up from the typical trainee role.

On a typical transaction, the team comprises of a partner, a senior (or mid-level) associate and a junior associate. The people here are very friendly, taking time to explain things to you. Partners are very down to earth and will walk into your office to discuss things in person, rather than phoning or emailing you, or not explaining things at all as is often the case.

Everyone gets along really well. Dinner and drinks outside of the office are very common. For instance, I’ve been out on “Korea Night” a few times where we go for Korean food and drinks. The line-up includes people from all levels, including a recently retired partner. When you’re out of the office, seniority and age lose their meaning.

In a few weeks’ time, when the summer interns arrive, there will be socials on a weekly basis, with trips to the Nike factory (where you can have a pair of personalised trainers made), a Yankees game, and plenty more.

Another group of people you can socialise with is the trainees seconded from other law firms, as they are all in the same boat as you. The group isn’t as big as some of the other trainee networks in, say, Hong Kong, but a smaller group definitely has its advantages.

I’m not a foodie in any shape or form but the food in New York is just incredible. There seems to be a craze for Ramen which I’m not too fussed about, but that’s okay because you’re spoilt for choice here. Eating at food trucks is a must do — the food’s great, it’s cheap and the portions are always generous. But if fine dining is your thing, there are plenty of high end restaurants too. In a nutshell, there are so many good places to eat here that it’d be challenging to go to the same restaurant twice during your stay.

In terms of personal expenditure, some things are definitely cheaper in New York than London, cab fares being one example. Other things are more expensive here, like toothpaste or Guinness. On the whole, I’d say food and drink prices are generally similar to London, post-tipping. One of the perks of working for a large firm like Mayer Brown is that they put you up in an apartment rent free. That’s what really makes the difference and allows you to have a great time here in New York or during a trip away to Mexico.

As for the office itself, it houses over 200 lawyers and is located in midtown on Broadway in between Central Park and Times Square. It shares the same building as the Broadway musical Cinderella and is two buildings away from David Letterman’s Late Show studio hall. Odd, but you can’t help loving it.


Kibbeum Kim is a third seat trainee solicitor at Mayer Brown. He is currently on secondment to the firm’s New York Office, where he has been working in the finance team.

Images via Imgur

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