the firm’s labor and employment group, says the firm often
offsets the cost to clients by charging a discounted hourly rate
for seconded lawyers, in recognition of “the important value
that secondments provide” to the firm.
Debora De Hoyos, a finance partner and global client
relationship leader at Mayer Brown, says that whether or how
much a client pays for a secondee varies, as each client relationship and secondment program is unique. But, like Donnelly,
she says the short-term financial hit is worth it in the long run.
A GROWING SOLUTION
De Hoyos says Mayer Brown has seen a modest rise in
secondments in recent years: “It’s not mushrooming, but
it is growing.” She attributes the growth, in part, to an
evolution in the way companies develop and market their
wares or services.
“Over the past 15 to 20 years, corporations and financial
institutions have gotten more sophisticated in their go-to-
market strategies,” De Hoyos says. “This has created dia-
logues between the client and the firm where they need to
get to know each other better.”
Donnelly says he has seen an uptick in requests for
secondments as well, but he thinks it has more to do with the
economic conditions in his firm’s base in northern California.
“We have been doing this as long as I can remember,”
Donnelly says. “But there has been an uptick lately. The Bay
Area is quite busy.”
As a smaller firm, Farella can’t afford to dedicate 30 to 40
associates to its secondment program like Mayer Brown and
other large firms can. Two associates comprise nearly 4% of
Farella’s associate pool, making a bigger investment a chal-
lenge, but Donnelly still thinks the program is underused.
De Hoyos and Donnelly agree that secondment programs
are beneficial from a client relations and educational perspective. But the driving force behind many secondments is the
client’s need to backfill a position due to leave. The more liberal
parental leave options at many Bay Area companies make it an
even more significant factor for Farella, Donnelly says.
Crowell’s Dwyer says client requests for secondments
have ramped up in the past decade, often tied to in-house
staff going on leave. In addition to seeking help covering an
existing workload, though, clients are turning to Crowell and
other firms in hopes of getting exposure to and working with
the firm’s female and minority attorneys.
“This is really exciting to us,” Dwyer says, “and a welcome
Solh, who is an immigrant of Middle Eastern descent, says
United Airlines was excited to get the perspective of someone
whose atypical Big Law background gives her a different way
of thinking about problems. “It benefited both them and me
to come in and add to their diversity,” she says.
When it was time for Solh to reintegrate back into day-to-day
work at Crowell, the process wasn’t nearly as rough as it could
have been after the time away, she says.
“I was worried I’d feel like I was out of the loop or would need
to catch up on client connections and work, but that didn’t play
out in reality,” Solh says, thanks to a supportive team that kept
her involved in key decisions, requests for proposal, and more.
The bond she formed with United also aided her return
“In many ways I felt like I came back ahead, because I had
forged such a strong relationship with United Airlines while
I was there, and it helped me hit the ground running when I
returned to the firm full time,” she says.
Firms can’t ignore, however, the possibility that attorneys
such as Solh might never come back after a fruitful secondment. Although it isn’t commonplace, Crowell, Farella and
Mayer Brown have each had lawyers leave for the companies
they worked with on secondment.
“It happens once in a while,” De Hoyos says. “Not every
associate wants to work in a law firm. This can be a good
change of pace for them.”
It’s a known risk. But just as law firms accept the assorted
costs of secondments in search of the benefits they provide,
it’s a risk worth taking.
“We try and take a long view and get people the experience
they want,” Donnelly says. “Hopefully, they look back down
the line and feel positive about it.”
Contact Patrick Smith at email@example.com or on Twitter @nyc-patrickd. Contact Phillip Bantz at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter
“Not every associate wants to work in a law firm. This can be
a good change of pace for them.”
—Debora De Hoyos