A day in the life of a Shulmans international secondee: Gillian McKechnie

In April 2019 whilst completing her training contract, Solicitor Gillian McKechnie swapped Wellington Place for Wall Street to take part in Shulmans’ latest international secondment. Here, Gillian describes a typical day at US law firm, Solomon Blum Heymann.

As part of a series of opportunities for junior lawyers to gain experience of international markets, Gillian’s secondment was the first time Shulmans sent a colleague to a US firm.

During the two week secondment, Gillian contributed to case work and attended networking events and professional seminars on diverse topics such as the future of FinTech, advances in unstructured data and adoption of AI, as well as the pace of regulatory change in the EU vs US.

A typical day on secondment at Solomon Blum Heymann

9.25am

Work usually starts a bit later over here, and even though people finish work quite late too, they seem to have a good work-life balance. We crowd into the elevator in the lavish foyer of the Trump Building, and I notice that almost everyone is carrying take-out coffee and has their breakfast “to go”.

Solomon Blum Heymann (SBH) is based on the 35th floor and the office is laid out in a traditional style. Lawyers have their own offices around the edge of the floor (“rooms with a view”) and legal assistants are based in an open plan area in the middle.

It is a really friendly working environment and my colleagues do their best to make me feel welcome.

11.30am

I am asked to review a company’s articles of association (in the US, they are called “by-laws for a corporation”) and draft the update paper work – director and shareholder resolutions. Once that’s done, I’m dealing with more corporate work - reviewing a shareholders’ agreement (known as “an operating agreement for an LLC”).

I have to do my own typing as unlike Shulmans, SBH don’t use dictation - and instead of secretaries, the firm employs legal assistants whose roles combine secretarial and paralegal work.

1.00pm

One of the partners approaches me to ask if I would like to attend a course next Monday relating to private wealth. I’m happy to accept - it’s a full day of seminars and an opportunity to connect with lawyers who are at a similar level to me as well as to be able to make introductions to our Private Wealth team back at home.

Later this week, we’ll also be attending a court session in Brooklyn, so there is a lot to look forward to.

2.30pm

The team at SBH are keen for me to get involved with a range of case work and we’re learning a lot from each other. I am asked to research some US case law, which is quite challenging to read through due to the differences in terminology and presentation of the reports. I feel privileged to get first-hand experience of this type of work in an international setting as not many UK-based firms can offer these opportunities and I will be taking back new skills as well as connections.

5.30pm

After work, I take the subway across town to meet another contact from my Shulmans connections, Janet Falk, who accompanies me to a briefing from law firm media professionals on working with FinTech reporters. I meet lots of interesting people - mainly media, PR and legal professionals - and Janet introduces me to some of her contacts.

After the event, Janet walks me back via Times Square which provides an opportunity to see some of the sights of the city.

Conclusion

Every day of the secondment was full of new experiences and opportunities to create connections both for myself and on behalf of the firm. While it was an intense two weeks (not to mention the weeks of preparation beforehand) it was ultimately very rewarding and fascinating to see the differences between UK and US law firms.

The standout difference for me was the surprising reliance on paper-based systems over technology. This appears to be a consequence of the traditional research and drafting style of US documents, where the fundamental interpretation of case law decided in the specific state of jurisdiction is relied upon. It is also important for attorneys to consider decisions that have been made in the wider states. While these decisions may not be precedents for judicial reliance in the state of NYC, for example, they may provide an indication as to how court decisions are being made and could be used to determine a trend which may be helpful when considering a clients’ position.

Despite each of the attorneys having their own offices, unlike the open plan working environment that I am used to, the culture of SBH was very similar to that of Shulmans; a focus on providing excellent client care and creating a great place to work. In addition, for most (if not all) of the legal work that I encountered, there was a UK equivalent that I could compare it with.

The main thing that I learned was that no matter where in the world you are providing legal services, the legal frameworks of each jurisdiction must always be followed and the principles of great client relationships and the commerciality of a client’s business are crucial.