When you locum it is sometimes the case that the assignment you thought you were working on changes and the client shifts the goalposts quite dramatically. This doesn’t happen that often, particularly where a client has spoken directly to the locum to discuss the role beforehand, but it does happen.
Recently we have come across a locum who thought they were booking on to a 6 month assignment but it turned out to be a series of weeks spread out over 6 months, but neither the agency (not us), nor the firm had told the locum about this. Naturally it may well have been the case that the firm had not told anybody about this until the locum started, but this sort of thing does create difficulties for locums, particularly as everybody, including locums, has to make a living.
A common occurrence is when a firm book a locum for an assignment but fail to say what exactly the locum is covering for – an equity partner, a junior member of staff or an extra pair of hands. Sometimes firms think it is a good idea not to tell the agency or the locum what the assignment is going to be, in the hope that they get the locum on board before breaking the good news to them that they’re going to be undertaking mundane tasks for 3 months when in fact they thought they were there to undertake a full assignment covering for a senior member of staff.
Another common goalpost change is when a firm book a locum for a 2 week assignment and shortly before the assignment, indicate that in actual fact the hours of work are not going to be 7 hours a day, they’re going to be 4 hours a day – “hope you don’t mind”.
It is important for law firms to remember that legal locums are independent contractors and businesses. If they do not like an assignment there is nothing to compel them to complete it. If you are not very nice to the locum and do something like this, then there is a very good chance that they are going to decide not to bother completing your assignment and move on to other things. Similarly we hear of locums who, having agreed an hourly rate based on the assumption the assignment is for 6 months and they’re covering a medium level fee earner, up their rates by 50% when they discover it is actually only a 2 week assignment and they’re covering for a partner.
Dangling carrots never works, whether you are a law firm looking for a locum to cover a 2 week holiday leave period, a legal practice looking to take on a paralegal and dangling a training contract in front of somebody to persuade them to join, or a solicitors firm taking on a legal secretary when in fact they need a receptionist.
I am not sure what employers expect in these circumstances, but in our experience it just annoys the member of staff or locum, and sooner or later everything goes pear shaped and the relationship ends badly.
Be open and honest from the outset, be clear in what you expect a locum to do when they join your firm, and do not renege on existing agreements.
Here at Interim Lawyers we have introduced a locum pack which includes a contract for both the locums and the law firms to sign, an understanding of what is expected of the locum, an advice sheet for the law firm to give guidance on how to treat a locum, particularly in view of the fact they may be managing more junior staff, and try to encourage our clients to be as open and honest as possible with locums and vice versa. For further details please visit www.interimlawyers.co.uk.