We run your assignment past our locums to see who is available and interested. Responses are usually received within about 40-60 minutes and we forward across our preferred locums for you to consider. At the same time we will send over a copy of our terms and conditions for your attention. Nothing too onerous in these – our locums work on a self-employed basis and invoice you weekly. We invoice you monthly with our fee being based on the hours worked.
Once you have decided on your preferred locum we arrange for you to speak to them directly or book them in to cover your assignment. On request we send you one or two references, proof of ID, proof of residence and a copy of the locum’s practising certificate if relevant.
The process can be undertaken extremely quickly. Our record is an assignment registration at 4.50pm on a Thursday, with a locum starting at 9am on the Friday.
There are over a thousand regular locum solicitors and legal executives working in the UK. Some of these hold down a number of different roles, whether legal or non-legal, and undertake locum work either as a sideline or as a main source of income. However, certain areas of law attract more interest than others.
Why is this?
The main answer is that any employer will try to get away without having to arrange short-term cover for any lawyer who goes on annual leave, maternity leave, sick leave or simply has a large increase in their caseload.
And why not. The main aim of working in a law firm is to generate money and to make a profit so that the business sustains itself and supports the people within it. It is not ever a profitable decision to take on a locum if the firm can survive without one. The difficulty a lot of firms have is recognising when a firm can survive without a locum.
One thing is clear – most UK law firms will try to arrange cover for their property lawyers, regardless of how short the cover needs to be. This is because property files are pretty much hands-on the entire time, and if a fee earner goes away and leaves a file running, the firm could almost guarantee that the other sides on the transaction will immediately want to exchange contracts or have queries that need urgently dealing with. If a fee earner is away for 2 weeks it slows the entire transaction down and runs the risk of negligence claims.
The same applies with family law. Very often in family law there are issues that need to be dealt with swiftly, and if the fee earner is away on annual leave this cannot happen.
These two areas are the two most in demand short-term cover requests we receive for locums. Most other locum requests are either long term or in relation to specific requirements, such as a departing fee earner or an increased work load.
Wills and probate is a good example. For wills and probate most assignments are a minimum of 3 months, quite often considerably longer than this. This is because there is a national shortage of wills and probate solicitors after a large number jettisoned by law firms in the 1990’s as markets were opened up and firms thought they could see the writing on the wall for the demise of wills and probate. However, with the recent hugely profitable Power of Attorney trade, there has been a large increase in the amount of work coming in to private client departments of law firms, and for this reason wills and probate lawyers are very often in demand. However, the work very rarely needs to be covered in the short term, and we often get requests for wills and probate lawyers to cover until a firm have recruited permanently. They have often not quite paid their wills and probate staff enough to retain them and they have moved on to pastures new, and the whole merry go round starts again of finding a new member of staff, trying to avoid paying them too much but needing to employ a locum in the interim, racking up huge costs and not investing sufficiently in the future of their wills and probate department, to avoid the same thing happening again a few years down the line.
The only other area of fairly constant demand for short and long term is local authority locums, across a whole wide range of areas, but this is a completely different topic!
We often see local authorities looking for staff and read about placements from our locums’ CVs showing hourly rates at levels rarely seen outside large London commercial practices.
So for example we quite often notice that childcare lawyers coming from a local authority background expect considerably more than childcare lawyers who have worked in private practice. The difference can be quite dramatic – in private practice it is rare to see an hourly rate above £35 an hour for family solicitors of any length of experience or complexity of work to be covered. However, for local authority locum lawyers it is very rare to see anyone earning less than £35 an hour, you’re more likely to see somebody working at £45 to £50 an hour for what is fairly similar work, but just from the other side.
Why is this?
Many years ago back in the good old days of local authorities trying to get out of doing any work, the HR departments signed up various councils to RPO’s, Recruitment Process Outsourcers. Some examples of names in this field included Commensura and Matrix, one of whom was partly funded by James Caan. These RPO’s basically took over the whole recruitment process from the council HR department of sourcing temporary staff. So if a local authority needed a locum property lawyer, they would log on to the system, add the vacancy and the RPO would send it out to all the agencies on their list, collate CV’s onto the system and basically deal with the whole recruitment process, including payment.
You may ask why would a HR department outsource their job to someone else? Good question! I attended a meeting with one of our local councils back in 2007 when the HR director was explaining the new system and how good it would be for everyone concerned. At the time the Department for Work and Pensions was running an executive coaching scheme for anyone who was recently made redundant, and I am aware that the HR person who spoke to us that day was in that coaching scheme within 12 months of giving that talk. I hope he got a good payout, but this is a classic example of the bizarre and wonderful world of local authorities. Why anyone would outsource their own job, knowing that they were likely to get made redundant is just beyond me. However, what has happened over time is that the RPO’s have operated an effectively ‘closed shop’ of recruitment agencies as only certain recruitment agencies are signed up with them to introduce staff. This is because you have to comply with a whole range of requirements including high levels of insurance, and also all locums have to be employed by the agency and through the RPO’s system. A lot of smaller agencies like ourselves are simply shut out.
As a result of this there has been a national shortage in some areas of locums, and as a result of the national shortage of locums, their hourly rates have shot up, creating an artificial market. I’m not sure this will continue forever as new innovations like this tend to be cyclical, but as it stands this is partly why local authority rates are so high.
The other reason they are so high is because of IR35 legislation that has started to be applied by local authorities to all locum assignments. The new IR35 legislation basically says that if you are within the legislation you must pay the same tax as somebody who was in an employed position, even if you are working as a locum. Rather than the contractor or locum being responsible for determining whether they fall within the legislation, the onus is now on the local authority to make the decision. Furthermore, the local authority and/or any recruiters involved in the process have to agree to be liable for any unpaid tax that the contractor does not pay themselves. As a result this has made the whole locum industry considerably more expensive for local authorities. Why? Because suddenly assignments that may have been covered at £35 an hour on a self employed basis are now being covered at £50 an hour on an employed equivalent basis. The locum is suddenly needing to pay national insurance and PAYE on their earnings, and there are no ways around this. Virtually the only way to get paid for any roles that fall within the IR35 specifications is to use an umbrella company who employ the locum and pay PAYE & National Insurance. Some agencies also do the same job, although Interim Lawyers and TP Legal Recruitment do not. There seem to be no easy ways around this, and it is for this reason as well as the whole local authority limitation with RPO’s, that has led to an artificial market in the local authority sector, which simply does not exist in the private practice.
There is no difference between a locum lawyer and an interim lawyer. It is just a question of language. We set up Interim Lawyers many years ago simply because all other domain names of a similar nature have been taken! Interim lawyers are exactly the same as locum lawyers; they work on an interim or temporary basis.
In-house interim lawyers work in the same way. There has been some confusion at times because of the way local authorities use the word locum when looking for staff, and in the past there has been a distinction between lawyers working on a fixed term basis to cover say annual leave for two weeks, and lawyers working on an ongoing basis covering specific cases or caseloads as and when required.
Some recruitment agencies have referred to lawyers working on an ad-hoc basis but ongoing as “interim lawyers”, and lawyers working on a fixed term basis covering annual leave or similar as “locum lawyers”.
In reality there is no difference between the two, but the differentiation has been made because of the way some locum solicitors are paid for their work.
Some recruitment agencies have a commission deal with umbrella companies (not to be confused with a dodgy backhander of course), whereby if a locum signs with a specific umbrella company, the locum agency gets paid a fee. Locums sign up to umbrella companies to get paid for work on a fixed term basis and the umbrella company pays them as an employee of their own limited company. We have been offered £200.00 per introduction by umbrella companies, so we can only presume that there is some considerable profit to be made in their use. Umbrella companies however are really only relevant to locums who are working on a fixed term basis, rather than ad-hoc as and when required. Our company does not recommend using them – they are, for most people, an unwanted administrative expense.We think this is why the terms have differed with some agencies – umbrella companies are not really relevant for ad hoc interim solicitor roles and more suited to fixed term.
For locum solicitors in the UK the busy period every year starts in May and runs through to September. This is the timeframe when annual leave cover is booked and firms often need extra help dealing with increased caseloads during the conveyancing busy season. People tend to buy and sell houses when the weather is warm, and start looking after Easter.
There is a statistic somewhere that shows the housing market increases by over 50% during the summer months compared with winter, and unfortunately this tends to coincide with most solicitors’ annual leave! As a result, this is a busy time of year for all concerned, and residential conveyancing locums are particularly in demand. As conveyancing is the busiest area for locum work, it follows that when the property market is busy and when most conveyancers are on annual leave, there is going to be most work available for conveyancing locums.
We have found that firms tend to fall into two categories – those who have regular locums they know will come in to provide cover on an annual basis and have been doing so for years, and those who leave it to the last minute hoping they can struggle through and then discovering that actually if they even think about it, they could end up in hot water with the SRA. There are also the unfortunates who find that their regular locum suddenly discovers they cannot cover the annual leave and leave the firm scrabbling around for a conveyancing locum at the last minute.
Other busy periods bizarrely are around January time when staff have an annoying habit of handing in their notice to start a new job in April, requiring medium to long term cover until the firm can recruit. There is also the baby boom effect that always seems to kick in around January, and we have found over the years that maternity cover requests increase.
Areas of law other than conveyancing tend to be much more ad hoc as firms don’t tend to need annual leave cover to such a degree, although family law is pretty similar to conveyancing. It is still the same though that May to September is the busier period for all areas of law as well as conveyancing, and there is usually very little work from about December through to February unless it falls into the category of staff leaving or maternity cover.
Q: How far ahead can I plan my Locum cover for holidays or pre-arranged annual leave?
A: As far ahead as you wish. It is a good idea to always plan ahead wherever possible as locum cover can be difficult to arrange at short notice in the busy periods of the year like the summer or around Christmas. However the vast majority of locum contracts are arranged with as little as 24 hours notice (sometimes a lot less) and we try to assist.
If you know about annual leave coming up in say 3 months time, it is definitely worth speaking to us now rather than waiting. Just drop us an email over to email@example.com and tell us the following information:
- Name of law firm or in house legal department
- Email address and telephone number
- Type of law
- Budget (optional)
- Level of experience needed and whether you will recruit a solicitor or a solicitor/legal executive/experienced fee earner
- Start date and end date
Q: How can I be sure you will send a fully qualified Locum Solicitor?
A: We use a thorough registration process for all our locum staff. During this, we request proof of ID, proof of residence, a copy of their practising certificate, confirmation that they have no conditions on their practising certificate and at least two references from recent employers or from recent assignments.
At the end of each assignment we request full feedback from our clients on the performance of the locum, including issues such as:
- Appearance (we don’t want locums working for us who turn up in shellsuits!)
- Client interaction
- Staff interaction
- Management Skills
- Time Management
- Overall impression
Any locum who receives a low score in this process will not get future work from Interim Lawyers. We are aware that sometimes the requirements of employers for a locum are a little excessive and we do bear this in mind when evaluating our returns. An example of this would be a low score for punctuality where the locum has turned up 30 minutes late on one occasion due to a signalling failure on the train line.
For non-qualified staff we are more dependent on references to demonstrate ability.
From time to time we supply new legal locums to clients for very short notice assignments, and we are not always able to get references immediately. However from the moment we know a locum is going to work on an assignment we endeavour to obtain these and forward them through asap.
Q: The locum I had at my law firm was not as good as expected, what can I do?
A: It is always disappointing when a locum does not live up to expectations and we as an agency would like to know if this is the case. Sometimes if we feel that our clients have received poor service from a locum we offer a discount on future assignments (this is not a contractual obligation). We can very often supply an alternative locum solicitor or fee earner at short notice.
After all, the beauty of using a locum solicitor is that you can quickly terminate any arrangement and hire another one without too many issues arising.
We do ask for feedback after each assignment and do not offer poorly performing locums future assignments.
Locums are assessed on:
- Client interaction
- Staff interaction
- Management Skills
- Time Management
- Overall impression
Q: How many locum agencies should I register our firm’s assignment with?
A: We rarely get asked this question, but we know that quite a few practice managers or junior partners at medium sized law firms will get asked to secure the services of a locum or provisionally find out what is available out there in case of need. The practice manager will call round 6 or 7 agencies and ask for a locum.
We know that the practice manager has called round 6-7 recruitment agencies to ask for a locum because our locums email us and let us know!
Professional locums tend to register with a good number of agencies to make sure they have been considered for every locum assignment available on the market. The problem with blanket calling a load of agencies is that firstly you will be inundated with phone calls from very excited agents all thinking they have the assignment wrapped up and pushing you for a response, and secondly you will be wasting your time on the whole because a good number of employment agencies have very similar locum lists.
It is certainly true that we all have certain locums we use regularly, and that these locums will favour one particular agency over another, but it still means you will have caused each locum to get 6-7 different telephone calls from agencies, which can be very annoying for the locums concerned!
Our advice is to call one agency, give them a deadline of when you expect to see CVs, and if none are forthcoming or not suitable, move onto the next legal recruitment agency.
Q: What is the cost of having a locum?
A: Locum costs depend on a wide range of factors, but usually the rule of thumb is that the longer the assignment the lower the rates.
Location plays an important part in determining hourly rates. For example if you work in Kings Lynn there are very few locums who live within say 75 miles of your offices. This means that a locum will have to stop overnight. Accommodation costs in Kings Lynn are usually reasonable so the hourly rate will not be that affected. However – if you are based in Newquay in Cornwall there are again very few locums residing close by but the accommodation costs at certain times of the year are exceptionally high so hourly rates will be considerably higher.
Length is the other major issue, although a good number of locums have become fairly immune to promises of length assignments that are offered simply to try and haggle the hourly rate down! It is fairly easy to spot firms who are trying it on and recruit a locum for 2 weeks cover at a low rate by indicating a likely duration of 6 months. The rates will probably be lower for longer term assignments, but this can only be a very small reduction in a lot of cases.
Costs can be broken down into the following:
- Hourly rate paid directly to the locum lawyer . This is usually termed as the “locum hourly rate” in our correspondence with you.
- Our fee – this is paid separately and is based on 18% of monies paid to the locum.
There are no other costs. The locum will issue an invoice to you on a weekly basis, payable within 3 working days by BACS. We issue an invoice for our fee on a monthly basis, based on the amounts the locum invoices you for during the month.
As a general guide, the overwhelming majority of our locums work on a rate of £25-35 per hour (this has increased in recent times and varies year on year) – see our hourly rate guide for details.
Our fee of 18% is non-negotiable – we charge the same rate on every assignment – click here for our locum fee page. However if a locum takes a permanent role with you we have different arrangements. Please contact us for details.
Q: How are locums screened – what qualifications do they have?
A: Our recruitment process involves all locums being thoroughly screened before being registered. We always obtain two professional references and get proof of ID/residence plus a copy of a practising certificate before arranging an assignment for a locum. Sometimes we do introduce locums who are available at short notice and then try and get the above documents over as quickly as possible. The skills sets of our locums vary so please let us know if you require any specific qualifications or accreditations and we’ll make sure that we find a locum who matches your requirements.
Q: How quickly can you respond to emergency requests?
A: We open the Interim Lawyers office at 08.30 hrs every weekday and we are able to respond very rapidly to requests for emergency cover for locum solicitors and lawyers. We can dispatch solicitors and lawyers within minutes of a call being made, although naturally every call depends on the current availability and status of our locum teams.
Our out of hours service is operated by email. We regularly check for emergency cover requests throughout the evening as well as early morning, so if you need someone at short notice please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you get in touch after 5pm or before 8.30am.
We are a Company looking to use a Solicitor. Is having a locum solicitor a cheaper option than using a law firm?
Q: We are a Limited Company looking to use a Solicitor. Is having a locum or interim lawyer handling a case a cheaper option than using a law firm?
A: Yes, in a nutshell, but using a locum solicitor is a slightly different experience to engaging a solicitors firm to do the work for you.
Firstly, you will need to be aware that if your contracted solicitor makes a mistake, you will not have any recompense against the solicitor individually if they are acting as your company representative.
Secondly, you will be restricted to the knowledge an individual solicitor is able to provide rather than a law firm.
Thirdly, the solicitor will need to be contracted to you and will not be an independent lawyer per se.
Fourthly, you will need to check that an in house contracted lawyer can do the same things a solicitors firm can when dealing with your matter.
Whilst it is correct that the hourly rate is going to be dramatically different – budget for about £30-40 per hour for a locum or interim lawyer compared with £175-225 per hour for a solicitors firm, there are reasons for this – the main one being that if a mistake is made, you will have recompense against a law firm – they have professional indemnity insurance.
You cannot employ your own solicitor on a private basis for most types of work, but a limited company can indeed save substantial amounts by using an interim lawyer or locum solicitor. It really depends on the work you want them to do as to how they can assist.
Please note that we do not supply locums to defend winding up actions against your company or similar litigation. It is unlikely also that a locum would be prepared to handle professional negligence claims on your behalf. We credit check every limited company before accepting an assignment.
Get in touch with us to discuss your assignment, and we can advise as to whether using an interim lawyer will be the best course of action or cost effective.
Q: I am provisionally seeking locum cover for my firm, what do I need to do?
A: Drop us an email over with your requirements but make sure you tell us it is very provisional. It is always helpful to know exactly how likely the assignment is to go ahead.
We have two law firms on our books who are marked with a big black cross. Our locums will not give consent to a CV being released to them and we rarely bother very much when we get their assignments emailed over.
The reason for this is because the practice managers at these solicitors’ firms will spend a lot of time giving us their assignments, specify dates, hourly rates, types of work etc.. and tell us that the vacancies are urgent. We contact our locum solicitors, agree hourly rates, provisionally book them in, send a CV over….. and hear absolutely nothing back despite calling and emailing.
Whilst we expect this from time to time and appreciate the pressure law firms and their staff are under, there are a few firms out there who have earned their black cross from doing this more than three times in a row.
If you tell us the post is provisional we can let our locums know as well. This stops them provisionally booking the assignment into their diaries and then bombarding us with calls when another assignment comes in elsewhere that they are unable to accept in the meantime.
Please bear this in mind when looking on a provisional basis. We are very happy to help and can often provide details of locums definitely available at a particular point in time, but if you don’t tell us how possible an assignment is to actually happen it causes us and our locums real problems.
Q: I am a sole practitioner and need ongoing cover for annual leave or emergencies – can you help?
A: Yes, absolutely. Usually we get calls from sole practitioners asking us to provide details of a locum who can assist on an ongoing basis with any requirements for annual leave, increased workload, emergency illness cover and urgent staff cover.
We can always assist with these, but it is difficult to give a definite locum availability unless the assignment is longer than 4 weeks or we are able to indicate at least 2-4 blocks of booking rather than just one. The reason for this is because most locums will not commit to a week in a year when something much more lucrative could come up that they then have to turn down because they have already booked themselves in for your annual leave cover etc..
If you have a 2 week summer break to cover, simply drop us an email whenever you can to email@example.com and we will confirm the dates. About 6 weeks before you go we will supply you with availability for our locums so that you can agree cover with us and an individual locum. It is often best to get the person in for a day before you go so that you both know what needs covering and what can be left for your return. Please note that you will have to pay for the locum on this day unless the solicitor in question lives just around the corner and is feeling particularly generous with their time!
Providing ongoing cover is always possible and you simply need to get in touch when you need assistance. Emergencies are similarly covered. Provided you are looking to pay a reasonable hourly rate (we can advise on this for solicitors and legal support staff) we will be able to arrange cover for you.
Areas of law in demand are fairly straightforward. It is almost always the case that solicitors firms recruit Conveyancers to cover for annual leave, sick leave and maternity leave.
Litigators can be covered for, or so the argument goes. After all if you get in a mess with a litigation file it is easy just to palm it off onto Counsel and let them deal with it.
Residential Conveyancing requires careful management. Anything less than this can result in professional negligence claims. As a result it has always been the case, and probably always will be, that residential conveyancing locums are the most in demand.
If you wanted to become a professional locum and work 9 months in every 12, residential conveyancing with the ability to do some light commercial conveyancing would be the place to be.
Areas to avoid, which tend to go up and down like a yo yo, are litigation and corporate commercial. Family law has been a graveyard for some years since the demise of legal aid and a load of redundant family solicitors. Crime has never really existed as a solid area for locums and litigation tends to be too sporadic.
At Interim Lawyers we are always delighted to hear from residential and commercial conveyancing locums looking for additional work or even just starting out as locum lawyers.
Email us your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org
The use of the term ‘contractor’ tends to describe a situation where a lawyer or solicitor is working on an ongoing basis, usually to deal with excess capacity or a busy period.
The use of the word ‘locum’ tends to be used when referring to a lawyer or solicitor covering for sick leave, maternity cover, replacement cover (during notice periods) or any short term cover.
In the IT industry quite a few skilled employees are used on a contractor basis to deal with specific projects. This does not tend to happen with the legal profession – projects per se do not tend to crop up. It is usually cover for specific incidents or periods of time that is more relevant.
Locums work on a self-employed basis. In other industries contractors work on an employed basis via the employment agency who introduced them. In law firms contractors work on a self-employed basis as well, not usually via agencies unless dealing with a large multinational.
Very easily! Simply click this link, download the form, fill it out and email or post it to us. We welcome all feedback on locum assignments, whether positive or negative.