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On secondment during my TC in San Francisco

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Clyde & Co’s Madeleine Shanks on legal life in the world’s tech capital

Most of us would jump at the chance to work abroad. One perk of training at a global megafirm like Clyde & Co is its international opportunities. Madeleine Shanks, a third-seat trainee who is normally based in London, is living the dream, doing a six-month secondment in the Golden Gate City.

What’s the reality like?

Shown to her desk on her first day, “everything was new and exciting”. You enter “an unfamiliar practice and legal system, where things are done very differently. You’ve got to figure out how the system works and what work product you’re expected to produce as a trainee in a US office,” Madeleine tells Legal Cheek Careers.

At the same time, “it felt like home from the beginning,” Madeleine says. “Obviously it’s difficult to move your life abroad, but I found it easy to communicate with everyone; it’s very friendly here,” she reflects. “We had Thanksgiving last month and people at Clydes were inviting me to spend it with their families — they’re aware you’re not from here, and conscious to involve you in things,” she adds.

Madeleine Shanks

Spread over two floors, the office is much smaller than Clyde’s London HQ. “The office is very friendly”, she explains, “everyone is interested in where you’re from and what your background at Clydes is, and when there are events everyone comes”. The inclusive culture also means “you get good exposure to other departments within the firm”. Colleagues invite Madeleine to come along to hearings so she can get her bearings around the US court system.

The application deadline for Clyde & Co's vac scheme is 7 January 2018

Madeleine, a psychology graduate from the University of Exeter, is currently sitting in the data breach team within the technology department. The practice area is “up and coming and still very new to the London market”. She explains:

“We act for insurers, dealing with the initial breach and advising clients on coverage. The work is really varied — anything from ransomware to individuals accessing information that they shouldn’t. As a trainee, what I do day to day is write coverage advices, draft correspondence to policyholders, report to clients on the event that’s happened and how it relates to the insurance policy. It’s a very relevant yet niche area, in which the law is still developing, especially in the UK.”

When she’s not tackling cyber security insurance problems, Madeleine enjoys the perks of living in tech city. Home to Silicon Valley and the likes of Facebook, Google and AirBnB, San Fran is at the forefront of global tech innovation. Attending talks led by visionaries in the tech world gets Shanks in on the excitement. It’s easy to see why she might be soaking up more about the industry than Californian sun:

“They’re more informal than most of the presentations I have attended in London, which is great because it opens the floor to discussion. Last month I went to one about Bitcoin and Blockchain. It’s a good opportunity to meet people in the market, and listen to them talk about changes in the industry that are relevant to the sector and often reflected in the media. That’s got to be one of the best things about training here.”

Beyond the dazzling skyscrapers of its financial centre, (where Clyde & Co is stationed), San Francisco is a patchwork of districts with lots to explore. “It’s a really interesting city,” Madeleine says, “at Clydes there’s a legacy of people at the firm telling you where’s worth going, which restaurants to try. It’s a hub of activity and a good community to live in. Of course San Francisco has a huge bay, so it feels like you always get fresh air even though you’re in a city.”

The neighbouring beaches, Wine Country and Redwood forest trails have lured Madeleine out of the city, too. Moving to the West Coast certainly isn’t shabby, especially as Clyde provides its secondment trainees with an apartment, which “takes the pressure off arriving in a new country”. Living in California means trainees have time to travel to nearby cities, such as Los Angeles, for the weekend. Besides, living in San Francisco “is a great excuse for my family and friends to come and visit”, she laughs.

So, how can you land yourself a secondment in California?

“Anyone who is a trainee at Clyde & Co can apply,” responds Madeleine. “You have to put forward a business case — a written document detailing why you want to go on secondment, why to that location, what you can bring, and how you and the firm can benefit from it. The next stage is an interview process. I interviewed with a partner at the San Francisco office, and a member of graduate recruitment. Obviously San Francisco appeals as a city, but picking an area of law comes first. For me it was the combination of technology and insurance that sealed the deal”.

Before she tailored her application, Madeleine reached out to people in the San Francisco office to find out more about the work that they do. “This was important to me before taking the decision to spend six months overseas,” she says. But of course, you’ve got to bag that golden training contract first. To that end, she advises:

“Read up on what you’re interested in — it’s important to pursue something that motivates you and tailor your applications to that. Work out your main interests within the legal sector and build on your experience in those areas. Speak to people about what they’re doing and take interest in that too. Use all the resources available to gather information and network as much as you can.”

Find out more about vacation schemes at Clyde & Co ahead of the 7 January application deadline.

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