International Women’s Day 2020: developing an international practice

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Charlotte Ford
Charles Russell Speechlys, London

In March 2020, just weeks before the UK went into its first Covid-19 lockdown, we celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) with the theme #EachforEqual.

As part of celebrations at Charles Russell Speechlys, we hosted a panel event for trainees and associates in our UK offices interested in developing an international practice, providing practical tips from partners and associates who had taken different approaches in their careers – from joining an international association to doing an overseas secondment.

While the suggestions were applicable to any lawyer at the start of their career, our panellists touched on the additional challenges that women lawyers may face, such as career breaks to start a family or part time working.

The panel included:

  • Emily Chalkley (associate, Employment), who is on the International Committee of the Employment Lawyers Association;
  • Alice Martin (senior associate, Private Client), who relocated from London to Zurich and recently set up the ‘Swiss City Parents’ network for professional working parents;
  • Juliane Lorenz (senior associate, Real Estate), who completed an overseas client secondment and is part of the firm’s German Team;
  • Rose Carey (partner, Immigration), who is active in the American Bar Association Labor and Employment Law Section and spent time on a pro bono secondment in Greece; and
  • Dharshi Wijetunga (partner, Private Client), who has worked in Asia and Europe advising clients on cross-border matters.

The panel had a simple call to action: get involved in the firm’s international programme. Their top tips for developing an international practice included:

  • Getting involved in a ‘country desk’: many firms have desks or teams focused on key markets where they do not have offices to manage local relationships and business development activity. This is a great way to gain experience in the market and connect with your peer group at relationship firms. If you have language skills, a qualification, local experience or a passion for the market, they will want to hear from you.
  • Secondments to one of your firm’s international offices: many large firms offer this to trainees and associates to give them a flavour of international practice early in their career. If you firm does not have overseas offices, could you go to one of your firm’s ‘international friends’?
  • Joining an international association: associations such as the IBA or practice-based groups are great for keeping on top of developments in your area, connecting with lawyers around the world and raising the profile of your firm. Make the most of your membership by getting involved in relevant committees, attending events to network and speak (if possible), and seeking out writing opportunities.
  • Client secondments: overseas secondments with clients provide a great opportunity to get to know the firm’s clients and the markets in which they operate.
  • International pro bono projects: many large firms support global pro bono projects providing their lawyers with the opportunity to use their skills and experience in a different way. At Charles Russell Speechlys, we have joined a pro bono collaboration with five other firms to support asylum seekers in Lesvos.
  • Do not be afraid to consider international opportunities with a family or other personal commitments, as it is possible to balance everything with support from the firm and managers. There are like-minded individuals out there who can provide advice and support. Our panel members found their children and partners adapted well and enjoyed the opportunity to spend time in another country and experience a different culture, language and way of life.
  • Make sure your manager knows about your international aspirations at the outset of your career so you can discuss what options are available within the firm from the start.

Weeks later, as the UK and other countries went into lockdown, our attention turned to the challenges of working from home and managing client relationships in the most extraordinary of circumstances. As we have adapted to this new way of working, we have seen how virtual client calls, conferences, business development meetings and even secondments have opened up new opportunities for our lawyers to develop their international networks. The IBA Virtually Together Conference in November was a great example of global networking from home. 

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