There are a number of professional locum solicitors in the UK who solely specialise in producing short-term cover to firms on an annual basis, and very often get a range of repeat bookings. There are also a number of semi-retired solicitors who undertake ad-hoc assignments as and when they come up, simply to a) keep their hand in and b) give them something to do and c) earn a bit of money.
As far as we know there are no locums in the UK who have guaranteed sources of work throughout the year. There are plenty who seem to go from one assignment to the next and have bookings constantly for certain times of the year, but none of it is ever guaranteed and they are often in need of work here and there, and hence are registered with the various locum agencies including ourselves.
So the answer to the question is no there is no guarantee of locum work for any field of law.
What we can say however is that there are certain areas of law where locums traditionally have been in more demand than others, providing you are able to travel to cover assignments. The main two of these are Conveyancing and Wills & Probate.
If you are a solicitor or legal executive who has about 3 to 5 years of residential conveyancing experience or wills and probate experience, then chances are you will pick up locum work across the UK on a regular basis, and, if you are any good, you will attract repeat bookings.
However, if you are a commercial litigation lawyer, it is very likely that you will be doing ad-hoc locum work as and when it comes up.
The only time that locum work as a career move is a good idea is if you are not in need of a regular income to pay the mortgage and want to work on an ad hoc basis. This applies to all areas of law, whether this is conveyancing or family, because no locum work is ever guaranteed and any assignments can be cancelled without any notice at all.
Do not listen to anyone who claims that they earn hundreds of thousands of pounds from doing locum work and pick up constant bookings. We certainly have not met any locums who do this, and we know of over 700 in the UK. We do get phone calls fairly regularly from solicitors who say “I’ve heard from Lance the Locum that you can earn £150k a year doing locum work in solicitors’ firms. How do I get a piece of the action?”
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.
Locum solicitors can be notoriously bad at keeping a record of their previous locum work history. This can be a complete nightmare for the recruitment agencies involved because it can leave them with no idea what the locum has been doing for the last few years. This can be the difference between getting an assignment or not, particularly if the hourly rate is disproportionately high compared with expectations of the law firm requiring a locum.
We have a locum on the books who is one of our regulars, but has not updated his CV for about 4 years. During that time he has probably undertaken between 50 to 60 locum assignments, but we don’t know actually what those are because he has never given them to us. Instead we are dependent on writing a short note to say that he locums extensively across a wide area, and that we have always had very positive feedback on his work. On a number of occasions this had led to someone else getting the locum assignment, and whilst this may not particularly bother the locum in question, who picks up plenty of work generally, it seems a shame that just for the small task of keeping a record of dates and forwarding it across to us, he is missing out on assignments.
So how should you keep a record and what should the record be of? Firstly, keep a note of the dates. You don’t necessarily have to know that between the 12th and 16th of August you spent a week at Smith’s Solicitors in Barnstaple, but to have a note that in August 2017 you were with Smith’s Solicitors in Barnstaple for 1 week is very helpful. You also need the name of the firm, the location, ideally an email address for someone at the practice, a short note as to the type of work you were doing, and the identity of the person you were covering for. By this I mean the level within the practice, so if you are covering for a partner or head of department, anyone reading your CV can immediately see that you have provided cover at a senior level.
The easiest way of maintaining a diary is to keep an excel spreadsheet with a column for each of the fields mentioned. Every time you do a locum assignment simply add the new firm and information in. Excel spreadsheets can be copied into emails; the data can be manipulated or pasted.
Keeping a sheet of paper with handwritten notes on simply doesn’t work because then if anybody needs to see it they have to either copy it into a record themselves or you have to photocopy it and send it across. Neither are particularly professional in the modern digital age and it can make the locum look very old fashioned indeed if we have to send over a scrappy piece of paper that has been photocopied numerous times.
We cannot emphasise how important it is to keep a record of all your assignments as it makes such a difference to your future prospects of work. You cannot expect locum agencies to add this information for you, although if there are any out there doing this, please tell me so we can have a look and see how they are putting the information together. If you are up against another six locums for the same assignment and five of them are maintaining a regular diary of their locum work, then you can virtually guarantee which locums will be going forward for a particular role and which one is going to miss out. The diary becomes particularly important if you are a professional locum charging a fairly high hourly rate for your work. This will make a considerable difference to your chances of success, and for some of the locums registered with us it is the one thing they could do to increase their prospects of good quality work.
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.
Traditionally it used to be said by locums that they could pick up 8 out of every 12 months in locum work for property and private client, or for other areas of law of less intensity, 6 months out of every 12. So what is the current rule of thumb for locum work?
Hard to say, but this is our guide to the rule of thumb for conveyancing, wills and probate, family, in-house commercial and litigation.
For conveyancing we think the rule of thumb at the moment is 8 months out of every 12, if you are able and willing to travel. If you are not able or willing to travel we think the rule of thumb changes to about 5 months in 12 in London and the South East, and 4 months in 12 in the North and Midlands. If you are an established locum you can probably add an extra month on to this on average every year.
For wills and probate locum work we think the current rule of thumb is 9 months in 12 for any locum with more than 3 years PQE. I don’t think this changes for established locums as it’s not common to see repeat booking for wills and probate work, and assignments tend to be longer term. If you are not able to travel, the rule of thumb will drop to about 6 months in 12 at the most.
For family locum solicitors the rule of thumb is probably at about 7 months in 12, a dramatic improvement on family locum work from a few years ago. There is currently a shortage of family locum solicitors across the UK, and we don’t anticipate this changing for some time. If you are unable to travel however, we think the figure will drop to about 4 months in 12 as assignments seem to be fairly well spread out.
For in-house commercial work the rule of thumb is probably 5 months in every 12 months working for most locums. Although assignments tend to be well paid and seem fairly plentiful, it is fairly common for them to be cancelled at short notice, or a recruitment exercise to be undertaken that never actually follows up. Quite a lot of time can be spent chasing shadows when looking for in-house commercial work, and for this reason we think the rule of thumb for the amount of work every year is probably quite low. If you are unable to travel this will drop right down to about 2 months in every 12, if that.
For litigation the figures are probably fairly similar to in-house commercial unless you have established clients, but most litigators don’t tend to do holiday cover – it tends to be more longer term or maternity leave cover. So you are probably looking at 4 months in every 12 if you are able to travel, and 2 months in every 12 if you are needing to look for something local to your home address.
These are very arbitrary figures and change regularly, but they reflect a locum market generally that has not really changed in many years, whether in good times or bad. Firms will try to muddle through if the market is not particularly strong, but booking locums was the first area to pick up for recruitment after the last recession.
The most in-demand in-house roles are generalist positions with companies looking for a jack of all trades rather than a specialist from one particular sector. If you are able to do both corporate and commercial in equal measure you will be in demand. Those who have just covered one area will be less so.
The most popular locums are those who have got general commercial and corporate experience in both private practice and in-house roles. The reason for this is because in-house counsel tend to cover a very wide range of work across the board, but in a specific role are likely to just do certain tasks. However, there are a large number of corporate/commercial lawyers out there who have had very specific experience in one sector during their career, and quite possibly have no experience at all in another sector. In-house legal departments tend to want someone who can pick up a file and run with it, and not someone who may be in the legal 500 for their experience in aviation finance that wouldn’t have a clue dealing with an employment file.
We have a full article on this including our guide to getting paid and a template for a 7 day letter before action.
Interesting you should ask! We have an article on the site setting out exactly what needs to be in the CV or you can download a CV writing pack from our sister site – www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk
The article can be found here: http://www.interimlawyers.co.uk/how-to-write-a-cv-for-locum-work/
Am I considered as self-employed or as an employee?
About 95% of locums working through Interim Lawyers are self employed. Working on a self-employed basis gives both the locum and the law firm or in house legal department so much more flexibility and is better from a tax perspective.
However the question as to whether the assignment is classed as self-employed or employed also depends on the Inland Revenue (HMRC). For example if you worked for one firm for 3 years on a regular monthly salary payment equivalent, HMRC may well determine that your arrangement is one of an employee/employer and you would be treated as such from a tax perspective. It is quite clear however that locums engaged for short periods of time who regularly work for a wide range of law firms or in house legal departments are self-employed for the purposes of tax and national insurance.
Longer term or regular locum employment for specific fixed hours each week may be regarded by the Inland Revenue and contributions agency as salaried employment and therefore liable to PAYE and employer’s NIC. We have never come across an arrangement that has fallen prey to this, but you do need to be aware of the tax implications of just working for one firm for a lengthy period of time.
Q: Am I covered by professional indemnity insurance if I work as a locum or do I need to take out a policy?
A: Unlike doctors and other professions, solicitors’ firm Professional Indemnity Insurance usually covers locum solicitors working on behalf of the law firm. In 99.5% of cases locum and temporary members of staff are covered by our clients’ professional indemnity insurance policy. If you are unsure at any time before an assignment begins please contact us and we will gladly check for you. Whilst you are on site with a client you can ask the firm’s practice manager or one of the partners and ask for confirmation.
Most law firms would be surprised to be asked about PII because it is taken for granted that locums are covered, but with all the changes in the market and different rules applying to so many areas of a law firm practice, it can be worth checking.
Some locum solicitors do take out their own policies just to be on the safe side, and the cheapest way of doing this is to use a price comparison site.
To give you an idea of the cost, we have professional indemnity insurance ourselves, although our terms exclude liability, and the cost is minimal – less than £30 per month. We would expect a similar rate for a locum solicitor because we understand that liability for any errors will rest with the client in most circumstances rather than the locum.
What are the locum rates of pay for a solicitor or lawyer?
This is a difficult question to answer but we have produced a rough guide which you can access by clicking here.
The hourly or daily rate is usually a matter for negotiation between the parties although we very often specify an hourly rate based on discussions with our client before an introduction is made.
A lot of locums have an hourly rate they use to start negotiations and this tends to vary according to the length of an assignment. Longer assignments attract lower hourly rates.
What are the terms and conditions of employment for a locum?
This will depend upon whether you are self-employed or an employee of the law firm or in house legal department who have signed you.
If you are engaged on a long term locum assignment and have been advised by an accountant that you are likely to be regarded as an employee, you should be offered a contract of employment specifying details such as salary, entitlement to annual leave, sick leave etc. within eight weeks of beginning your employment.
For locums who are self employed, the terms of the contract will be those agreed with the law firm or in house legal department. The usual range of employment rights protecting salaried employees will not apply.
As a locum on a self-employed basis you need to be aware that it is highly likely at some stage in your locum career a firm will dispense of your services at extremely short notice – this can be as short as a few hours. This is after all the main purpose of employers using locums and temporary staff – flexibility.
You will need to negotiate your terms with the employer. We have a template that our signed up locums can use to agree terms if required, although it very often is just a case of agreeing hours, confirming the hourly rate already arranged and establishing exactly what work is going to be dealt with.
Q: How, when and what will I be paid for my locum services?
A: Locums are paid directly by the hiring law firm or in house legal department. Interim Lawyers do not employ locums directly.
This is why the majority of the locums working through Interim Lawyers are self-employed. Self-employment is very easy to set up. It involves a telephone call to the HMRC to notify them of your intention. After this, you simply have to issue an invoice for the work you have completed.
Payment is on a weekly basis unless agreed otherwise. You issue an invoice to the law firm or in house legal department who ought to pay you within 2-3 working days.
Most firms pay by cheque or via BACS (Bank Automated Clearing System) directly to your bank or building society account. It is important to use the services of a suitably experienced accountant when becoming self-employed. You need to be aware of the expenses that can be put against your income in order to reduce your tax liability etc…
The payment levels depend very much on the assignment and are almost always agreed before we pass you through to speak directly to our clients. See our hourly rates article for details of typical amounts paid.
Q: Will I get any travelling allowance?
A: We do not pay our locums anything and this includes expenses. It is quite rare to find law firms and in house legal departments prepared to pay expenses or a contribution towards them. Usually the hourly rate agreed is considered to be the overall amount payable.
However there is no harm in asking before you start an assignment. If you want to include mileage or other expenses in your rate we can negotiate this with the employer before you start. It is rare for this to happen and may also affect your potential chances of securing a booking.
For most assignments in popular areas, eg London, we have a good number of locums available for the majority of the year to choose from. For these posts we do not recommend requesting mileage or other expenses. However there are some assignments where you are more likely to get a favourable response.
Some employers may actually provide overnight accommodation as part of the package. Some sole practitioners will offer you the use of their house whilst they go on holiday or know a friendly bed and breakfast owner who will do a good rate.
Q: Will working as a locum affect my chance of permanent employment in future?
Quite simply, when the good times were booming, and law firms were recruiting permanent staff on high salaries and reasonable work conditions, the vast majority would not touch locum solicitors with a barge pole. We should know. Between 2004 and 2008 we dealt with the grand total of about 3 locum assignments and just short of 1,000 permanent vacancies.
None of the registered locums on our books were even interviewed for the permanent vacancies, even when there was very little response from our registered permanent candidates.
The usual reason for this is that employers believe locums to be damaged goods – after all, if you have worked as a locum you have experienced the following:
- Being your own boss
- Being paid a higher hourly rate than the employees at a particular firm
Once you have done this, it is hard to go back to being an employee, or so the theory goes.
It is of course perfectly possible to go back and work as a permanent member of staff, and people do on a regular basis, but do not be surprised if employers hold your locum status against you in future years.
If you are locuming out of necessity, this is of course different. Locuming out of necessity is usually done whilst waiting for permanent work to crop up. Firms will still look on suspiciously, but a few weeks is better than nothing after all.
Q: Can my locum contract be checked?
A: Lawyers uncertain about the terms on which they are being engaged as a locum, for example, whether or not they are self employed or an employee, can send a copy to us for checking. We are very happy to give any contract the once over, but you must be aware that we do not hold ourselves out as able to offer specific employment law advice. You must also ensure that this is done well before accepting the terms of the contract offered.
It is important to have some sort of agreement set up, even if it is just an email confirming the assignment in writing.
Q: What do I do if I have had change in circumstances (i.e. a change of contact details)?
A: It is important that you keep your locum records with us up-to-date, so that you can benefit firstly from finding out about new assignments and opportunities, and also so that we have the right contact information and experience to pass onto potential employers.You can amend your details by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0207 127 4343.
Please note that if you do locum assignments elsewhere and don’t tell us, you are quite often taking yourself out of the running for any new work coming in. After all, we are unlikely to put someone forward who hasn’t worked for a few years, when we may have someone on our books who has worked through us for the past 6 months constantly (and we are aware of this).
Q: How do I register to work as a locum for Interim Lawyers?
A: Click here to register as a locum. Once we have your registration we will log you onto our database and keep you posted with anything suitable arising.
Please note that when registering we need to know the following:
1. Your specialist areas of law. So many CVs for locums fail to say exactly what it is you are able to do. If you can handle a caseload of either Conveyancing, Commercial Property or Wills & Probate, please tell us. Failing to do so will simply mean you miss out on opportunities in these areas.
2. Your general availability. It is no use registering for locum work with us if you can only work weekends!
3. Your standard hourly rate. If you don’t know this, have a look at our hourly rate page for an idea.
Once you have registered, your details will be logged onto our locum database for the fields of law you have expressed an interest in.
We do not tend to distinguish between our locums for different areas of the country, so if you are logged as a conveyancing locum, you will receive locum opportunities for conveyancing across the UK.
Locum assignments come up at different times of the year in various amounts. On some days we get absolutely nothing new in, and on other days we get loads in.
You are very welcome to call us regularly to check on vacancies – we may sound slightly flustered at times if extremely busy, but it always assists. Some people seem to call us and receive an assignment within a few days every time – pure coincidence of course!
We do not favour certain locums over others, and always try to fit the best person to the assignment. This does not always mean the most experienced as the firm may want something less – eg looking to pay less money or specifically looking for someone more junior.
When you get to the end of an assignment you can drop us an email and let us know you are available again. We always keep locums updated in any event with all assignments coming through to us, whether you are currently in one or not.
Q: How do you communicate with your locums?
A: We know that keeping our locums up to date with our business is important. That is why we produce our regular newsletter for candidates, both locum and permanent, which appears monthly (give or take a few!). It keeps you updated, both with vacancies coming in generally, advice on marketing your services, professional developments and with the latest information from around the business that affects you. We deal directly with locums via email and text message regarding any new assignments coming in, but similarly are quite happy to talk to you on the phone where necessary.
Q: Why should I want to work as a locum?
A: Working as a locum solicitor can offer flexibility, variety and a change of scenery on a regular basis. Whilst our order books in recent years have not exactly been bulging, a good number of locums have found regular ongoing work.
Locums are in great demand at certain times of the year in law firms and in house legal departments. There are several reasons for this. Law firms have discovered that employing locums on a short term contract is a cheaper option than taking on permanent members of staff. Firms are also opening for increasingly longer hours, and this means having extra solicitors to cover the working week. As the legal job marketplace gets more flexible law firms are finding themselves with staff who want to work part time or job share, requiring more staff and subsequently more cover for those staff when they are off work. Some areas of the UK face recruitment problems, although these are rare in the current climate.
Finally, an increasing number of solicitors are getting involved in providing additional services or non-legal services (eg, HR management, ski instructor, nursing home owner etc..) as well as training & lecturing, providing continuing professional development (CPD), all of which may take them away from the office and result in the need for locums.
Q: How much do I as a locum have to pay the agency?
A: You pay nothing to us (in fact it is illegal for a recruitment agency to charge a candidate); we charge our Clients (law firms, in house legal departments and employers) a fixed rate.
Q: Who pays my Tax and N.I Insurance?
A: Depends on whether you are self-employed (issuing an invoice at the end of each week) or whether you are on the temporary payroll. It is very important that you don’t spend all the money you earn. Being self employed you will be accountable for your tax returns. We strongly advise you to get advice from an accountant and have your tax returns completed by them. We can recommend a low cost accountant (our own accountant in fact) and you simply need to email us at email@example.com and ask for his details.
Q: What do I do if I can’t fulfil an assignment?
A: There will be occasional times as a locum solicitor when you will not be able to fulfil an assignment for one reason or another. It is absolutely vital that you contact us by phone, text and/or email as soon as possible so that we can find a replacement. We can be contacted Monday – Sunday between the hours of 08.00 – 17.00hrs on 0207 127 4343.
The best way of contacting us to notify outside these hours is by email. We regularly pick up messages.
We would naturally appreciate you keeping all cancellations to a minimum wherever possible. We penalise any locums who pull out on us without a very good reason and will certainly avoid using them again in future.
Q: How many locum legal recruitment agencies should I register my CV with?
A: As many as you like, but we recommend giving one agency priority over others. This will be the agency you have your primary relationship with and you can become a ‘trusted’ locum. We tend to know before sending out an assignment which of our locums is likely to respond, how long it will take them to respond, and also which one we are likely to go with once they have responded.
We also know that there will be certain locums who will only respond to us if they have already checked with their primary agency to make sure they do not have the same vacancy on their books as well.
This is good practice, because your relationship with the locum recruitment consultant is extremely important for ensuring you get continued assignments flowing your way.
Obviously for assignments in far flung places where there are fewer locums you will get more offerings if you are flexible on travel and this will open doors for you, but for assignments in central London for example we get a very healthy response usually for every assignment coming our way.
I am a solicitor working for a law firm and looking to take on contracts elsewhere – is this possible?
Q: I am a solicitor working for a law firm and looking to take on contracts elsewhere – is this possible?
A: Yes. We have a number of solicitors registered with us as locums and contractors who work for one firm full time or just about full time, yet work for one or more other firms at various times as a contractor or locum. There is no reason why you can’t do this, provided you tell your main employer about the others. I believe it is called ‘moonlighting’ if you don’t have permission, and this is usually covered by your contract of employment!
A typical example is a family solicitor with children panel membership who works in a solicitors firm undertaking privately funded work and not LSC funded family law work. The solicitor has SQM Supervisor status but is not using it with his/her existing firm. Provided your current firm are happy with you working elsewhere, the family solicitor can assign their supervisor status to another practice and work for both law firms. Very common, particularly when LSC rates are so abysmal for legal aid work.
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.
We don’t think so. In fact we would be glad to publish any reasoning from any umbrella company as to why a locum would want to use an umbrella company to get paid.
Look at the facts. Assuming you do 20 weeks in a year at a rate of £1,000 a week, your annual income is going to be £20,000.
Your tax on this as a self-employed person is going to be negligible. The first £10k’ish is tax free, and the remainder is done at 20%. Your national insurance contributions will be minimal and you can knock off plenty of expenses before getting taxed – speak to an accountant about the expenses to be deducted – low cost accountancy at www.businessbusstop.com if you are looking for one!
An umbrella company sets you up as a limited company and handles all your administration.
Gee whizz! What administration? Issuing weekly invoices, submitting an annual self-assessment to HMRC and paying your national insurance and income tax? It is hardly very taxing.
The umbrella company takes a fee from your hard earnt locum monies for work you could quite comfortably do yourself.
We have only come across one locum using an umbrella company in a very long time in recruitment. In that instance I don’t think the locum got any benefit at all. Completely pointless.
If anyone knows of a reason to justify the use of one of these companies apart from laziness, please let us know and we’ll publish it on our site.
Be prepared to be very, very flexible.
For example, if we email you on a Friday afternoon and ask you if you were free to go to Scarborough on the Monday morning, say yes.
If we ask you to cover a 3 month assignment starting in three weeks time working 3 day weeks for 6 weeks in Portsmouth, say yes.
If we then get a lucrative booking on a full time basis for 6 months covering maternity and need a locum, it is likely we are going to put you forward for it.
If you do not want to do locum work please do the following:
1. Take a locum booking and then decide you don’t want it 12 hours before it is due to start and after we have done reference checks as well as the employer.
2. Um and ah about an assignment 6 miles from your home address before deciding it is too much hassle and besides you have got to pick the kids up from school at 3pm.
3. Pitch at a completely unrealistic hourly rate, even though you are on benefits and in dire straits.
All of these things have happened in the last 12 months. We favour locums who favour us. If I send out a vacancy and need 5 days cover urgently in some far flung part of the UK, I will try and make sure I favour the person who covered it for me when we get something in closer to home.
Locums who cannot be flexible and have very specific requirements are extremely unlikely to get much work through us.
The quick answer to this question is yes, you can. We have had a couple of assignments covered by locums in the past who have conditions on their practising certificate, but this is very rare and opportunities where solicitors firms would be prepared to take you are few and far between.
One of the main issues is trust. Locums are often placed fairly blindly into law firms and the firm is completely dependent on our judgment when sending across a CV.
Every locum on our books is checked out before we send over a CV and we are usually able to determine whether there have been any incidents in your past. We always disclose conditions or previous appearances before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal or any involvement with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
We appreciate that quite often conditions relate to minor breaches of the Solicitors Rules in respect of accounting procedures and this is why on a couple of occasions we have been able to assist locums with conditions.
If you have conditions on your certificate that relate to issues of alleged dishonesty, serious misconduct or conduct falling below the level required of a solicitor, you are unlikely to get locum work through us. Naturally we are happy to discuss any conditions with you prior to registration. Please be aware that thanks to a number of websites publishing all former decisions by the SRA (even when they themselves remove them after a certain time) we can usually work out if there have been appearances before the SDT etc..
This is not always the case though and if we do miss someone we do not accept liability if a law firm take a locum through us and subsequently find that the locum had conditions at some point or appeared before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
The same applies for Legal Executives. Although very few appear to ever get hauled before the ILEX disciplinary tribunal we still want to know about it if you have been before the tribunal and also do background checks.
We normally advise not to attend. Over the years we have been dealing with locum assignments we find that the vast majority of interviews like this are a complete waste of time, both for the client (the law firm) and the locum. Firstly the locum has to take time off working, which is a headache for most if they have to give up valuable hours to do this. Secondly, there is not really any reason for interviewing – the beauty of using locums is that the locum can be asked to leave at any time – you are self-employed – so if there is something wrong with your work the firm can get rid of you at any point. Thirdly we have had some really, really bad experiences of the following occuring:
- The firm try to get the locum to agree a discount on their hourly rate and spend the interview time haggling.
- The firm try to get the locum to agree a salary rather than an hourly rate in order to save money.
- The firm cancel the interview at very short notice after the locum has driven 100 miles to their offices – after all – it is only a locum role and nothing important (this was the reason given by the law firm in question).
Naturally we are happy to arrange interviews if locums want to attend them, but we really think they are unnecessary and time consuming… Telephone or Skype interviews can deal much more efficiently with any queries that need to be discussed and save everyone time and effort.
Think carefully before agreeing to travel for interview.
There are certain areas of the UK where locums are in great demand and other areas where there appears to be a lot of them.
Firstly, it is important to point out that certain types of locum are more in demand than others. For example, it is quite rare to get a request for a criminal solicitor locum anywhere in the UK. Whilst it does happen, and we have had solicitor locum requests in as diverse of places as Mold and the Falkland Islands, they are few and far between and the vast majority of locum assignments coming through Interim Lawyers and Ten Percent Legal Recruitment are for conveyancers, wills and probate solicitors, commercial property lawyers, family solicitors and company commercial solicitors. Civil litigation and commercial litigation solicitors are asked for from time to time, but it seems that most firms are okay to do without cover in the summer for litigation work and in the longer term they tend to cover the work internally.
Conveyancing locum work is cyclical. In the summer there is a lot of conveyancing work available for locums and in fact in the month of August this year we had a number of locum assignments where we had nobody available to cover. This is rare indeed and Interim Lawyers usually has a success rate of about 98% in securing a locum CV for a particular assignment.
Wills and Probate, again, tends to be concentrated around the summer months, but we do find quite a few longer-term roles available simply because there is such a shortage of wills & probate solicitors and fee earners across the UK.
There are certain hotspots for locum work that are worth knowing about if you are thinking of entering into the world of locum assignments.
Firstly, we get a lot of requests for locums from solicitors firms based in Hampshire and Surrey. These are particularly around Portsmouth and Southampton, and moving up the coast towards Brighton and into West Sussex. Not only do we get quite a few requests for locums in places as diverse as Emsworth, Chichester and Bognor Regis, but we also find it harder to source locums for places like Basingstoke, Portsmouth and the outer reaches of Southampton including Eastleigh. If you are available to cover in these areas for residential conveyancing, commercial property and/or wills and probate, then chances are you will pick up quite a bit of work.
The other major hotspot is around Wiltshire, North Somerset and Dorset. We do not seem to get many requests for places in Devon and Cornwall and I suspect there are a good number of retired solicitors based in these areas providing seasonal locum services to local solicitors firms at a reasonable cost, hence the lack of any requirement for the use of a locum agency like Interim Lawyers. However, places around Shaftesbury, Salisbury, Bath, Swindon and Dorchester, seem to have a shortage and solicitors’ firms will quite often try to secure the services of a locum in these areas at quite short notice throughout the year.
Surprisingly, Bristol again is an area where we have traditionally found it harder to source locums because also quite traditionally Bristol solicitors’ firms do not seem to have kept up the salary levels needed to secure accommodation in the Bristol area of a reasonable quality. Whilst house prices and the cost of living have increased dramatically, the salary levels for most Bristol firms have stayed pretty static or dropped which has meant a shortage of qualified staff in the area and has hence led to a lack of locums because firms are reluctant to pay locum rates. The same applies in Gloucester and Cheltenham where similar demand tends to be regular.
Our main area of business for locum assignments is around London. It is fair to say that a good percentage of the locum assignments on a weekly basis occur within 20 miles of central London but here again there are areas that can be a bit like a desert when it comes to sourcing locums. Whilst central London solicitors’ firms have no problem at all sourcing locums through us and we are very often oversubscribed with locums applying for any assignments that crop up in WC1, EC1 and W1, as soon as we move out of the centre of London and into the suburbs it is much, much harder to source locums.
Particular hotspots include East London (for example Stratford, Walthamstow and Ilford), South East London (e.g. Lewisham, Bromley and Dartford), and South West London (including Kingston, Sutton and New Malden).
This is mainly due to transport issues because it is considerably easier for most locums to travel into the centre of London to cover assignments than it is to get to the suburbs, especially if the locum is commuting in from outside London, which most are.
One major area that can be classed as possible the work hotspot in the UK is East Anglia and Ipswich & Norwich in particular. Due to the fairly remote location of these two cities, it can be hard to find locums prepared to travel out and stay locally at a reasonable rate that law firms can afford.
The same applies to pretty much the whole of Kent once you are outside the M25. Surprisingly places like Canterbury, Folkestone and Margate can be notoriously hard to find anyone prepared to work in them. This does not necessarily make it a hotspot, but more to do with the level of wages being paid in what are pretty high cost of living areas.
One final hotspot is Cumbria, where firms actually do pay good locum rates to secure staff to cover assignments, but it is quite rare to find a locum willing to travel up there. Firstly this is to do with temporary accommodation costs and secondly because there are very few locums who live in the area as it would be difficult to make a living out of the Cumbrian law firms.
The North West for us has traditionally been a problematic area for locums and we have found some solicitors’ firms in the area are quite demanding in their requirements from a locum and expecting too much from the service potentially being supplied. It is quite rare in other areas of the country but fairly prevalent around Manchester and we have had a number of experiences with solicitors firms which have made us quite wary about introducing locums in the area or even taking the time to source candidates. Solicitors’ firms expect very low rates and we have had locums placed in firms where the firm has expected them to undertake business development work for them and generate clients which of course is not something locums are usually there to do.
The best way to use hotspots for locum work is to research the cost of accommodation in the area (AirBnB is getting particularly good at providing cheap accommodation of a reasonable standard) and when you receive an update from Interim Lawyers Legal Recruitment to go for the areas indicated above. Chances are you will be the only applicant. If you know the cost of accommodation in advance you can factor this into your hourly rate and if a firm is keen enough to get a locum in then they are usually keen enough to pay the premium for someone who needs to stop locally.
The key to getting consistent locum work is to be as flexible as possible, although we do appreciate that circumstances for a lot of people preclude a lot of flexibility. However, regardless of whether it is fair or not, or easy for a particular locum in particular circumstances, flexibility remains the key to getting regular locum assignments.
Q: Can NQ Solicitors work as Locums?
A: No, not really.
In most areas of law, solicitors firms are looking for experienced lawyers to cover annual leave, sick leave, long term absence, change of personnel, increase in workload, etc.. etc.. The locum is expected to go into a department, pick up a caseload and start working on it without anyone else needing to tell him or her what needs doing.
Unfortunately for most NQ solicitors you need fairly close supervision and it is rare to get a newly qualified solicitor who is able to work on their own initiative throughout the day without someone else assisting you.
However – sometimes we do get requests for an NQ (newly qualified) Solicitor to join a solicitors firm as a locum as they have a large case that they need help with for example, or alternatively another NQ Solicitor is off work ill. In these circumstances it is possible that an NQ Solicitor can pick up locum work, but these types of roles are few and far between. We are not even sure we would recommend to an NQ that it is a good idea to work as a locum as it can affect your career prospects and future opportunities – some firms seem to hold it against you if you have a locum assignment on your CV.