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 to 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 workload.
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 1990s 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 into 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 has 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!