We have talked to Olena Savchuk, Counsel in Banking and Finance at INTEGRITES, about her experience of online secondment with Simmons&Simmons, an international law firm headquartered in the UK. She told us how to pass the selection procedure, what unusual in there in the work of the British lawyers, what is it Ukrainian firms should adopt, whether it was comfortable to work online in a foreign company, and what are the perspectives of banking and finance law in Ukraine during the wartime.
— Olena, please, tell us how did your rotation to the British company Simmons&Simmons happen? How was the secondment selection procedure organized? Give some advice to your lawyer colleagues on how to pass the selection.
— INTEGRITES team and Simmons&Simmons have known each other for a long time. We have worked together on some projects of foreign investors in Ukraine. When the war had started, British colleagues gave us a huge support and offered to organize a secondment for lawyers from our firm. Secondment is similar to employment - we had to send our CVs and to pass a short online interview, so that Simmons&Simmons could review the strengths of each candidate and decide within which practice to better place them.
To get on a secondment with a foreign company, I would recommend, firstly, to constantly develop and expand the ties with the colleagues in various countries; secondly, to work on filling your work profile with interesting and high-quality projects; and, thirdly, to level up ones presentation and communication skills.
— What are your impressions of online secondment? How long do you plan to be working in such format?
— I have decided to stay in Ukraine from the very beginning of the war not only due to personal reasons (my parents and husband were here), but also in order to be able to help the frontline and to join volunteering activities. The online secondment was the only possible option for me, and I was lucky that it was also suitable for Simmons&Simmons.
At the same time, I have not stopped working for INTEGRITES, and my engagement with Simmons&Simmons is part-time. I have to admit that, for the first time in my life, I have two jobs at the same time and sometimes it is difficult, especially considering the time difference between Ukraine and the Great Britain. I have 10+ years of professional experience, so it was easy for me to get used to coordinating schedules. But it could be challenging for those who are only beginning their professional path.
I would name the absence of real live socialization as one of the biggest challenges of online secondment. The work in a law firm requires adaptation of each other’s personalities and keeping up with the team spirit which can be difficult to do remotely. Of course, all of us have probably get used to remote work during the years of pandemic, and it has not become unusual for me either, but one should certainly consider this while planning the secondment. It surely does not affect the quality of the work, because most of the tasks can be performed without being present in the Great Britain. However, I do get a bit upset when some of my British colleagues messages the team about going to the theater or invites everyone to help themselves with some delicious cakes at the office.
Now I seem to better understand what do professionals from other industries feel like (IT specialists, designers, psychologists) who had adjusted to working remotely long ago and had never seen their colleagues in person. Now I can say that I have gotten a bit closer to the spirit of creative professions [smiles – ed.].
I plan to continue working in this mode till the end of 2022, but it should be possible to extend the secondment thereafter. The procedure for granting access to work to new lawyers in the large foreign law firms is more difficult than the one in Ukraine. Mandatory are trainings on privacy, cyber security, anti-corruption, and other internal policies. It can take several weeks, and in my case it took almost a month due to technical nuances of remote access. Therefore, it is practically impossible to start on day one and this needs to be taken into account while setting the duration of the secondment.
— On which cases are you working at the moment?
— While at Simmons&Simmons, I am being a part of the banking practice that includes Transactional Banking, Real Estate Finance and Restructurings and Special Situations. During almost 5 months of my secondment I already had an opportunity to engage with the projects of two of them. In general, it is legal support of financial and restructuring transactions.
Moreover, English lawyers provide great support to Ukrainians and there are many opportunities to join the pro bono projects, for example, relating to helping refugees from Ukraine.
— What are the peculiarities of British lawyers’ work? What could be adopted and implemented by Ukrainian law firms? Are there, perhaps, some corporate “lifehacks” in the company about induction for the new team members? Tell us about them.
— Managing a team of 10 people should perhaps be considered a science. And when there are more than 50 people in the team, such managerial skills constitute a special achievement. I was surprised to find out that there are partners among the banking practice of Simmons&Simmons who are responsible for ensuring appropriate and equal workload of all practice associates. Thanks to this, it is possible to avoid inequality and imbalances in the workload of the team members. It also gives an opportunity for the associates of different levels to engage in a bigger variety of projects and gain a lot of new experiences. I am impressed by desire of British colleagues to accumulate experience and share it with next generation lawyers. Interesting fact: the firm not only uses various common platforms for lawyers (LexisNexis, Practical Law, Westlaw), but also develops and constantly improves its own standard templates. This not only serves educational purposes of young colleagues, but also speeds ups information processing, hence making the services more cost-efficient for the client, because the lawyer does not have to do everything from scratch. These are not just precedent documents from previous transactions – every document has well structured drafting notes, remarks about different content options and is being updated regularly.
Simmons&Simmons cultivate a culture of sharing the knowledge and encourage everyone to have a proactive position and to exchange the experience. It can be the analysis of legislative changes and problematic aspects, skills and opportunities in business development or even recommendations for managing ones working time while providing services to the clients – all such atopics re being presented on live video lectures. Recordings of such workshops are available online and everyone who wants to improve their knowledge on any given topic can do this anytime. I personally like using this tool.
— Five rules of the perfect secondment.
— Proactivity. The level of competition in foreign firms is extremely high, that is why once needs to take a proactive position from the first day and not be shy to sign up for different work assignments. Because quality billing is still a must.
Friendliness. To establish a pleasant cooperation with colleagues and leave a good impression, I would recommend to take the initiative and to start communicating with colleagues. One can research profiles on corporate website and colleagues’ pages on social media, as well as utilize other secrets of networking. By the way, many would like to learn more about Ukraine, since the Britons and Ukrainians both have a joint mission to #standwithukraine.
Structuring your working time. The skill of setting the priorities and meeting the deadlines becomes critical, specially when working two jobs.
Dedication. Work in a foreign company is more than just ticking off the list of particular functions for a certain period of time. It is a memorable experience which presents endless possibilities. I would advise to start every day on your secondment with asking yourself: what is it new that I can contribute to the team with? How can I be helpful and be remembered and also spend my day efficiently?
Using experience. Secondment abroad provides lots of priceless skills and experience that can be further utilized within your own company. Hence it is important to analyze everything you are seeing and hearing and make useful conclusions.
— What is your opinion about future of banking and finance law in Ukraine?
— Today there are many top-tier banking and finance practices in Ukraine who offer their clients impeccable services, attested, among others, by international rankings. The war has made its adjustments to our work, but I am convinced that the quality of financial lawyers’ services should not be affected.
I am more concerned about the decrease in the number of projects, because the martial law unavoidably forces the country to go into thesaving mode, and for some reason it is customarily in Ukraine to cut the legal costs. The secondment of Ukrainian specialists abroad might play quite an important role here, because it helps to expand international ties with the purpose to further implement joint projects with the foreign colleagues in future. Such secondment gives a lawyer an opportunity to better understand the specifics of the clients’ work, to adopt the most up-to-date legal practices and improve their professional skills. All this gives the lawyer and the firm he or she is working in a competitive advantage, and thus, - increases attractiveness to clients in terms of understanding their needs and peculiarities of the industry in general.
Besides, the experience received can be used for the benefit of Ukraine. For example, the projects for rebuilding of infrastructure, re-housing, energy independence, logistics, cyber security, medical support and rehabilitation of veterans, etc. are already being actively developed and starting to be implemented. The experience of other countries that faced similar challenges can indeed be useful. Foreign experience can also be adopted in the areas which are currently only start developing in our country, but where Ukraine can become a leader, for example, in fintech, insuretech (technologies in insurance), defense industry, energy generation from renewable sources. After the victory Ukraine will be in the need of skilled lawyers with wide experience and proactive position. I hope that for me as well as for my colleagues a secondment will become a useful step along this road.