How much money can you earn as a consultant, freelancer or locum solicitor?
We regularly get contacted by solicitors wanting to know how much can be made from working as a freelancer (if in crime), a consultant (if family or litigation) or a locum (if non-contentious). These include sole practitioners, senior solicitors looking to enjoy retirement but keep their hand in as well as more junior solicitors, whether returning from maternity leave or wanting to change their lifestyles.
Whilst there is no definite amount to indicate, it is possible to talk about particular levels of work depending on the field of law.
For crime, I think most freelancers do well to earn between £22k and £40k per annum. I would be surprised if many crime practitioners earn more than this or even at the top end of the range indicated, despite tales that probably occur in the café at court! As legal aid dispensed via a range of law firms gradually becomes a thing of the past I suspect these amounts will completely vanish and work will be more along the locum lines – ie undertaking set amounts of work each month by replacing fee earners off sick or on maternity. I cannot see a future for profitable freelancing in crime. However recently we have heard of consultants working as duty solicitors taking 70-30 splits and earning around £50-55k per annum.
In litigation I think working as a consultant should really be an act of last resort. Most consultants or locums are lucky to get 1 month filled in every 12 months at the moment. Longer term locums seem to always be available for new assignments and the newer consultants don’t really stand much of a chance. Offer the service on an ad hoc basis and you may find it beneficial to maintain the work on an hourly rate – possibly £30-35 per hour – whilst looking around for sick leave cover or maternity contracts.
Family law used to be dreadful, but in recent years it has become a very profitable business and we struggle to fill assignments – mainly because most seem to be for solicitors with care experience and they are in very short supply.
Locums at the moment are working 9-10 months in every year cycle for non-contentious fields of conveyancing, commercial property and wills & probate. A few years ago this was more likely to be 6-7 weeks per year, but as the market has picked up there are plenty of opportunities for locums prepared to travel to work. We know of one locum who had not worked in a very long time finding she is now booked up solidly because she is prepared to travel and take bookings at short notice.
Employment law is a very hard area to get any work for – we have locums and consultants coming out of our ears and rarely get much in that will be of interest to them.
Company commercial is another hit and miss area – pick up a good maternity cover contract and money can be made. Without this luck it is more likely you will be doing 2-3 months in every year cycle.
A decent conveyancing locum can easily earn £30-35 per hour for 6-7 months of the year. This equates to quite a good salary (£45-60k pro rata – assuming full time for 48 weeks of the year) and better than you can usually get out of law firms looking to pay permanent salaries at the moment of around £35k for 12 months of the year. There are also some tax perks from working as a locum, although you do have to be careful with this area and take expert advice from an accountant. Commercial property is another busy area with rates usually around the £35-40 per hour mark in most areas of the country.
The government are apparently going to launch new legislation in the next few years aimed at reducing self-employed practices in the construction industry, but this may well have a knock-on effect for other sectors. I suspect the only effect will be for locums to make sure they are not undertaking too many hours with one firm at a time.
To register as a consultant or locum please visit www.interimlawyers.co.uk – our specialist locum legal recruitment site.
Jonathan Fagan, MD of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment – further articles available on the Ten-Percent site or at www.legalrecruitment.blogspot.co.uk