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Juliane Dieckmann-Keden had the flexibility with A&O to take a career-enhancing secondment at a time that suited her and her family

I was working at the Hamburg office as a Senior Associate in the Mergers & Acquisitions team when the partner I work with asked whether I would be interested in taking a six-month secondment in our London office. I was definitely open to the idea, but I had both my young daughter and my husband’s work commitments to consider. After careful consideration, I decided the time wasn’t right.

Approximately five months later, I found out that I was pregnant with our second child, and as my husband and I planned our parental leave arrangements, we realised this could be a good time for us to travel. Once our baby was born, I would take my maternity leave as planned and then my husband would subsequently start his parental leave, allowing us to seize the secondment opportunity.

The global mobility team took care of everything – from where we would live, to packing up our belongings, to sorting out the tickets and necessary paperwork. As my daughter was five at the time, it meant that she would attend school in London. In Germany, children don’t start school until they are six, so it was extremely important to us that we handled the move with care and chose the right school to take account of her unique situation. We learnt that most short-term secondees travel on their own or without children, so the mobility team had little experience in organising school transition for a 3.5 months school term. The education system in the UK is also very different with both a state and a private system, which was extremely difficult for us to navigate, particularly with the short time period between the application process and start of school. After some further discussion, the mobility team appointed the firm’s external school search agent to help us find a place for our daughter.

Before the commencement of my secondment, I had wondered what value I could bring to the London team as a German-qualified lawyer. However, I was able to perform a similar role to the one I had in Hamburg, as the documents we work on are alike. We simply ensured that a UK-qualified lawyer checked over the formal documentation to ensure the specific provisions were correct.

So, at the end of July 2019, we boarded the flight to London to start our exciting journey as a new family of four. The summer was perfect for exploring, and finding our feet both personally and professionally. School didn’t start until September, and it was a quieter time in the office, so during the first few weeks I had a chance to get to know my new colleagues as well as my way around the office. On the weekends, we enjoyed being tourists, visiting local attractions and shows and discovering parks and child-friendly places.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work in London at a time that suited me and my family and experience first-hand how business is done there. The London team are experts at building strong relationships both internally and externally. Furthermore, I had the chance to be a member of the UK corporate team advising on exciting, large projects. While there, I also learnt about the support of the Advanced Delivery & Solutions team, and plan to leverage all the newly experienced “tools” whist back in the Hamburg office.

Experiencing the countdown to Christmas in London was special, although we returned home two days before the big day to be with our wider family. We all benefitted greatly from our time away and although it had been challenging at certain times particularly for my daughter, it was wonderful to see her grow in confidence – learning to speak a new language and developing strong friendships in a totally new environment.

For anyone looking to progress in their career, I thoroughly recommend a secondment. Don’t be afraid to speak out about what works best for you.

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