December 05, 2007
Confessions of a Seconded Associate
Posted by Christine Hurt

The WSJ Law Blog asks if any readers have ever been "seconded" -- loaned by their law firm to a client for an extended period of time.  I have to confess that in the Fall of 1995, as a third-year associate, I was seconded to a major client of my law firm, a large oil & gas company.  As the Law Blog suggests, the client at the time was under a hiring freeze, so the legal department creatively had its outside law firm send me over to help out with the workload.  I never saw the economics of this -- paying my full rate for 8 hours a day didn't seem to be a cheap way to get labor, but no one asked me. 

The Law Blog also suggests that being seconded is (1) a good gig and (2) a good way to segue out of your law firm to a client.  At least in my case, I don't think either were true.  First, even though I had a new 8-5 job, it didn't seem to replace my regular job.  Most days I found myself leaving the client's offices at 5:30 and walking back to my other office to start my second shift.  Just because I was housed a few blocks away didn't stop partners from calling me and giving me assignments.  Therefore, my work day (and work week) was not shortened during my secondment.  Second, the reason that I was there was that the client had a hiring freeze.  So, hinting about a permanent job would have seemed a little silly, even if I had wanted one.  In fact, while I was there, management had an all-company meeting (without me) in which budget cuts were announced in all "cost centers," such as legal.  That afternoon, I saw a senior in-house attorney reading the classified section of the Texas Lawyer at his assistant's desk. 

All of this is not to say that I didn't learn valuable things during my two months there.  I got to know my client without the buffer of senior partners between us.  I learned a lot about how this specific business worked and about how generally legal departments are viewed within a company.  Although I was relieved when it was over, I appreciated the experience.  Although, unlike the Law Blog's prediction, it made me realize that the grass was not really greener on the other side of that particular fence.

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