The secondment of lawyers within a law firm, and between a law firm and a client organisation, is common in many jurisdictions today. So common, in fact, that many clients expect their law firms to second lawyers to them regularly, often on a cost-free basis. This column examines secondments and the legal issues that they raise, particularly in the areas of liability, confidentiality and conflicts of interest.
First, let’s consider the derivation of the term “secondment” in English. The English term “secondment” was first used in the 19th century to describe the situation where a military officer was transferred on a temporary basis from the officer’s normal position to another position within the army. The term itself is derived from the French expression en second, which means “in the second rank”. Subsequently, the term came to be applied to a broad range of situations in which an employee was transferred on a temporary basis to another position, either within the same organisation or in a different organisation. Thus, the term can describe both “internal” secondments and “external” secondments.