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 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 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 as 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 is a 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.