Yes you can, is the quick answer, but the slightly longer answer is that it can be considerably harder than if you were qualified or have maintained your qualification.
By way of example, we have a number of conveyancing executives with over 20 years experience who are not qualified. They may have partly done the legal executive qualification some years ago but never finished it. There can be a whole host of reasons for this but there are a significant number of non-qualified conveyancers out there who are highly experienced and quite capable of managing large conveyancing caseloads by themselves.
Unfortunately there are a good number of law firms and in-house legal departments that will not look at non-qualified fee earners for locum work, mainly because of the problems of verifying their identity, not having any way of knowing who they are taking on and generally being concerned about the risk involved.
A qualified fee earner undertaking locum work has always got evidence of their past history in the sense that they will be registered somewhere with a regulator, whether that is the Council of Licensed Conveyancers, the Charted Institute of Legal Executives or the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
In our experience, the number of complaints we get about locums, albeit extremely small, is fairly equal between non-qualified and qualified staff. It is perfectly possible to hold yourself out as a conveyancing locum solicitor and have never actually done that much conveyancing. For example, I am a solicitor, qualified in 2000 and have never done conveyancing, but technically I could claim I was a conveyancing solicitor and attempt to go into a practice as a locum on that basis. Similarly, I could be a non-qualified conveyancing executive with 20 years experience and be fully capable of running a caseload.
In some senses qualifications in terms of locum work are pointless and not particularly relevant because they don’t reflect the actual experience that a fee earner has, but that is not the point of this advice article, which is to cover the point that if you are not qualified it is harder to get locum work because there are companies out there who will not consider you.
What can I do to improve my chances of finding locum work if I am non-qualified or do not hold an up to date practising certificate?
Firstly make sure you have a recent proof of ID and proof of address that is easily sendable via email. Secondly, ensure that your CV fully covers all dates from the time you left school right up to the present day. Try to include all locum assignments for the past 3 years. If you have done longer-term locum assignments then try to include all locum assignments, but if a good chunk of your assignments have been short term, then possibly just the last 2 years will suffice. It is important to ensure that you give a full accurate CV to any locum agencies working for you because this is one of the things that a slightly hesitant client is going to look at and think about before they consider taking you on.
Also make sure that your CV covers all types of work that you’re able to deal with, and in some detail. It is not unusual to see a CV of between three and six pages for a non-qualified lawyer detailing all their previous experience and exactly what they are able to do.
Also do not forget to include your IT experience and confirmation as to whether you require secretarial assistance or whether you are comfortable working by yourself with a reasonable typing speed. If you do not know your typing speed then take an online typing test and see what that is. Include it in the CV.
Finally, get references – these are the key to getting locum work with a lot of firms – they want the reassurance that you have been a success working on previous assignments. At least two or three references from recent assignments is the best option. The reference should state who you are, what you did, how long you were there for and any positive comments the reference has about you. Each time you finish a locum assignment try to ask for a reference in writing from someone you have worked with or for, and ask them to address it “To Whom It May Concern”; pointing out that if they do this you will never need to bother them again.