As a legal recruitment agency in some aspects our life is very easy when it comes to checking candidates before submitting them for vacancies.
Firstly, the Law Society maintain an online directory of all solicitors with current practising certificates. This means that a solicitor can instantly be identified and confirmed to be holding a practising certificate covering them for the time of either the introduction for permanent vacancies and for assignments on a locum basis. This is a very easy check, and although our terms of business for both permanent and temporary work put the onus of checking onto our clients we do make sure that solicitors have practising certificates in place.
Secondly, because solicitors with practising certificates have had their identity checked, but for right of residence and also for proof of identity, we do not need to undertake additional identity checks on solicitor candidates for permanent vacancies. Again the onus is on our clients to double check everything, but a practising certificate is usually evidence in itself of identity and residence.
Problems can arise with non-solicitor candidates or solicitors working on a non-practising basis.
Are there Dodgy Locums?
There are at least two locums out there who purport to be lawyers/legal executives/executives/legal advisers who have convictions and long spells of detention at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Both are struck-off solicitors and both are still doing the rounds and trying to obtain legal work. One has covered his tracks so well that it is difficult to work out from his CV that he has ever been a solicitor and spent a number of years in prison having committed a multi-million pound fraud. The other one is easier to spot because the CV does not make sense, but both have altered their names slightly to avoid detection from background searches. We only discovered one after a client tipped us off having received the CV. The other one keeps submitting a CV for various vacancies we advertise from time to time and also calls firms directly on a speculative basis.
Because there is no central register for non-qualified lawyers, these types of candidate require us to be a little bit more careful with background checks.
Permanent candidates are very different, basically because there is always time between job offer and a start date to do any background checks or searches, but for locums we have a system in place to try and pick up any issues.
The Locum Verification Process
When a locum registers with us we do a Google search of their name and a few variations – this applies for solicitors, legal executives and licensed conveyancers, as well as non-qualified staff.
The Institute of Legal Executives maintains a register of legal executives who have been reprimanded and we consult this from time to time.
For solicitors we also telephone the SRA and ask for disclosure of any practising certificate conditions or issues that have arisen.
Although the SRA do not keep any records after a certain time, which cleans any solicitor’s record, there is a website that collects the data and keeps publishing the fact that a solicitor has been before the SDT or had sanctions applied by the SRA although they do not appear to be able to give any details anymore. The SRA information online is not always as thorough as one would expect. For example they seem to take a considerable time to publish decisions and also neglect to give information on certain types of sanctions that have been applied.
Every locum is expected to provide us with proof of ID and proof of residence. This is usually undertaken prior to the commencement of an assignment, but in some cases where the placement is urgent we have to source this detail whilst the assignment is ongoing.
References are also obtained or at least set in motion. We usually have at least one reference on file for each locum and we usually get these wherever possible from a recent locum assignment. Again if we have a new candidate then our efforts to obtain a reference can be ongoing at the start of the assignment. A lot of locums keep a ‘to whom it may concern’ reference which makes life a lot easier.
Could we be more thorough?
There are recruitment agencies out there who go through every piece of employment by a candidate over the last 10-15 years. We decided a long time ago that for our candidates we did not think this necessary and presented more problems than it solved. Firstly a lot of law firms change hands, close down, open up, move on and tracing staff can be difficult. Secondly the administrative burden of doing this would require a considerably higher fee for any placement. Thirdly if you were approached by a recruitment agency about a member of staff you employed 15 years ago would you be prepared to write anything back about them? I certainly wouldn’t.
We have a system in place whereby a further check is done by way of background check every 12 months on each locum to make sure nothing has arisen in the meantime.
What information do we disclose to our clients?
Everything. Absolutely everything we find. The last thing we want to occur is for one of our clients to discover something about a candidate and call us with the detail. Its embarrassing to say the least.
We disclose any practising certificate conditions, details of any bankruptcies, details of any appearances before the SDT or investigations by the SRA. We do not withhold any information, although we do have to find it out first in order to disclose it!
For locums we make our clients aware of anything we come across that might affect their decision to take that candidate on. If a check throws anything up we pass it across to our clients.
Sometimes this is easier said than done. For example one of our locums had an issue occur after our initial check was undertaken and before we conducted our first annual check 12 months later. It was only by coincidence that we happened to look into their background in the interim and discovered something we felt needed to be disclosed. This we did immediately, even though it threatened to scupper a long term assignment. Our reputation as a straight-talking legal recruitment agency is more important to us than short term profit (although it is of course tempting at times to cross over to the dark side and put this first!).
I like to think that our system is robust – very often the best type of locum candidate is one who has a wealth of repeat bookings to their name, and the sign of a good permanent candidate is one who has not moved very often in their career. Naturally it is rarely as simple as this, but a few simple checks at our end can really make the difference in ensuring candidates are who they say they are.
As I stated at the start of this article the onus on checking and verifying identity is on our clients (it is a contractual obligation on their part), but we do our best to assist through our own checks and procedures.
Jonathan Fagan is a recruitment consultant and Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. You can contact him via the website.