Gemma Hills: Commerciality, communication and client relationships – the value of secondments

Gemma Hills: Commerciality, communication and client relationships – the value of secondments

Gemma Hills

There is no better way to demonstrate a firm’s dedication to ‘understanding’ their clients’ business than to literally walk in their shoes. Here, Gemma Hills, a legal director in the corporate team at Addleshaw Goddard, shares her experience of going on secondment with a key client of the firm, and how even as an experienced corporate lawyer, it benefited her professional development.

I joined Addleshaw Goddard in May 2022 and before I had even set foot in the office I was asked if I would consider doing a six-month secondment for one of our clients. I’ll admit I was initially a bit daunted by the request – despite 15 years’ experience of all aspects of corporate work, I had never had the opportunity to go on a client secondment. But it didn’t take me long to decide to take on the challenge.

My role was to assist with a new project that was in the early stages of development. The project was very interesting and completely new to me (not being my area of expertise) so I spent a lot of time researching to allow me to fully understand the background and what was anticipated. There were several different parties involved in the project therefore we had to take into account different opinions and comments and a lot of my role was project managing the feedback.

I quickly realised that a role as an in-house lawyer is very different to that of an external legal advisor. It is vital that you have a commercial understanding of the business and also that you understand the process for decision making and communications internally. Your “client” in-house can be any number of individuals within the business in different roles so you need to be able to adapt to assist with any queries that come your way. I also discovered that a lot of my experience and skills were transferable to this project and other work I was tasked with.

Working in-house is also a completely different environment to that of a law firm as you are working with colleagues from many levels and areas of the business. Through the secondment I was able to gain some insight into the commerciality of how decisions are made and the main areas of importance for the client. Communication in-house is also a key requirement as it is common for different departments to be involved in decision making. It is therefore crucial that everyone is kept in the loop throughout so that there are no delays to any approvals that may be required.

One of the main positives of the secondment for me was to develop relationships with my new colleagues. The team were welcoming and I gained a good commercial understanding of the industry from them and hearing about the work that they were involved with. Being part of a project like this, even at an early stage, was an opportunity I would not have had if I had not been on secondment therefore it shows the benefits of the different types of work that you can experience when working in-house for a client. It was also great for my personal development as it was an area of law that I was less familiar with.

I would thoroughly recommend a secondment to anyone who is offered the opportunity. It helped with my personal development and allowed me to enhance and improve relationships with the client. It also, importantly, allowed me to gain a different perspective to advising clients which has benefitted my skills and expertise.

Gemma Hills is a legal director at Addleshaw Goddard

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