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Is It Time for In-House to In-House Secondments?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 17, 2016 1:05 PM

If you work in-house at a large company, you're probably familiar with secondments, the temporary placing of an outside attorney within the company. The term is military in origin, referring to sending off an officer to aid another organization but the idea is the same: Admiral IP Lawyer joins the team for a few months as the company revises its licensing agreements, for example.

Secondments are becoming increasingly common, but the deal is almost always the same: an outside firm lawyer joins a client company for a month or two or three. But now some in-house attorneys are wondering: isn't it time that we seconded too?

Everyone Loves Secondments

A quick review of the online literature shows that secondments are nearly universally loved. For firms engaged in secondments, the collaboration allows them to distinguish themselves and build closer relationships with corporate clients.

Attorneys who are seconded typically benefit as well, gaining new experience and insight into the business world. For example, attorney Craighton Goeppele says his seconding with a Japanese corporation allowed him to become a "more mature legal counselor" and gain important insights into a client's perspective.

GC's, too, are fans. Bringing in a seconded lawyer can allow the legal department access to greater resources (the outside firms') and provide specialized skills that inside counsel might not have.

So why not spread the love, allowing in-house counsel the ability to grow by seconding with other in-house legal departments?

They Do It Down Under

That's exactly what they're doing down in the Land of Oz. Two top Australian in-house departments have created the first ever in-house to in-house secondment program, according to The Global Legal Post. Special counsel for Westpac Banking Corporation and Telstra, a telecom company, swapped places for three months.

The swap was a learning experience for Henrietta Jones, who spends her non-swap days as inside counsel for technology and operations at Telstra. "It has been fascinating to see how two legal teams, of a similar size and calibre, are grappling with similar challenges -- such as 'doing more with less' and the pace of rapid technological and business change," she told Australasian Lawyer magazine.

Westpac's CCO and GC, Rebecca Lim, agreed. The program has "generated a lively exchange of ideas on issues such as the use of technology tools for lawyers, best practices for capturing knowledge within the department and initiatives to enable our lawyers to engage with our end customers," she says.

Here's hoping such programs make their way across the seas sometime soon.

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