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Secondment: A Valuable Option for In-house Staffing

In light of hiring freezes and restrictions on the use of outside counsel, many corporations are turning to secondment as a solution for their pressing legal needs.

Secondment refers to the hiring of a lawyer from a law firm on a full-time, fixed-price basis for a set period of time. The seconded attorney works in the corporation’s offices where he or she is integrated into the corporation’s business and legal teams for the period of secondment.

Secondments benefit the law firm, the seconded attorney and the corporation alike.

The corporation receives a quality legal resource, usually at a discount, without the focus on billable hours. By working in the corporation’s offices, the seconded attorney can learn the corporation’s culture and business and develop strong relationships with the in-house legal staff and business teams. That creates an atmosphere of trust which will allow the law firm to provide more efficient, knowledgeable legal services in the future.

The law firm benefits from the development of a stronger relationship with its client. Most law firms have a cordial working relationship with their business clients, but often lack a comprehensive understanding of the company and the issues it faces on a day-to-day basis. More in-depth knowledge will allow the law firm to provide better legal advice.

When the secondment is over and the attorney goes back to the law firm, he or she will likely be a trusted resource for the corporation and be the first one it calls when it is seeking outside legal advice in the attorney’s practice area. The attorney also will have valuable insight on how the law firm can expand the scope of its legal services to the corporation.

While any practice area can benefit, some — such as litigation, intellectual propriety, and mergers and acquisitions — lend themselves to secondment because they are discrete areas for which many corporations lack dedicated legal resources.

Corporations must carefully evaluate the need for an attorney and the goals they hope to achieve through the secondment. The parties should meet prior to the start of the engagement to establish those goals and priorities.

In a successful secondment, the goals will include a specific, discrete task for the attorney to accomplish during his or her tenure and the establishment of a framework for the performance of the attorney’s work at the conclusion of the secondment.

Education of the corporation’s in-house attorneys to continue the services after the secondment is also important. For example, a seconded attorney may establish the framework for an intellectual property program, including drafting the underlying policies and procedures, as well as creating an ongoing educational program. The company’s in-house attorneys must be prepared to pick up where the seconded attorney leaves off.

Mr. Classen is Deputy General Counsel of Computer Sciences Corporation. The views expressed herein are those of Mr. Classen and not those of Computer Sciences Corporation. He can be reached at hclassen@csc.com