Having decided that I wanted to qualify into the real estate team at DLA Piper, a secondment to one of the department’s key clients seemed like the logical next step. The opportunity to broaden my skill set, to develop my sector knowledge and to better understand the property investment market would be invaluable experience as a newly qualified real estate lawyer. I submitted an application to spend my fourth and final seat as a member of PGIM’s London in-house legal counsel and was fortunate enough to be successful.
The immediately noticeable difference from private practice is the variety of work an in-house lawyer is exposed to on a daily basis. Despite PGIM adopting an outsourcing model, as in-house counsel you are generally the first port of call for any internal legal query. I found that my time was divided across a number of different work streams including real estate, corporate, regulatory, commercial, finance and funds related matters. I was also able to advance my understanding of data protection law by project managing the update of existing agreements with PGIM’s service providers as part of its ongoing GDPR compliance initiative. My day-to-day duties primarily consisted of drafting and negotiating various commercial contracts with service providers, brokers, property agents, etc. Undertaking this role with near total autonomy, identifying any risks and having to take an independent view on certain issues, has certainly engendered a degree of self-assurance in my negotiation and communication skills.
What I wanted most out of the secondment was to expand my knowledge and expertise of the sector, of real estate investment and finance, from a more commercial perspective – to understand the rationale and the strategy behind the deal. By attending weekly workshops, deal review and stock selection meetings, fund acquisitions and allocation calls, investment committee meetings, and by participating in and being privy to the discussions that ensued, I now have a far greater understanding of how target assets are assessed, of the key metrics adopted to evaluate such assets, and of how decisions are ultimately made. Additionally, by spending certain days each week sitting with the legal team and other days with the commercial teams, I was able to cultivate strong working (and social) relationships across the different business units with colleagues of varying seniority and expertise. Expanding my personal network at such an early point in my career will hopefully pay dividends further down the line whilst having those existing rapports will no doubt be advantageous when instructed by PGIM upon returning to DLA Piper.
Another beneficial aspect of a client secondment is learning first hand precisely what a client wants from their legal services provider. Sitting on the other side of the table, albeit for only a short period of time, has allowed me to identify and experience both the positive and the negative. I have learnt that regular communication is paramount, whether that is providing a fee update, a progress report, or even simply acknowledging receipt of instructions or an email – being responsive immediately puts the client’s mind at ease that the matter is being handled. Perhaps the most important takeaway however is that, above all else, clients want solutions, and in as concise a manner as possible. The technical legal analysis should be available upon request, but ultimately, they want pragmatic advice and answers to their questions in plain English. From a client management perspective, these are two traits that I will do my utmost to adopt upon qualification.
In summation, I would strongly encourage all fellow trainees at DLA Piper to undertake a client secondment. The experience will undoubtedly stand you in great stead as you progress in your legal career.