At some stage in a solicitors career, this conundrum will almost always arise. It usually follows the stint of a locum in a firm for a longer period of a few weeks, and someone in the firm discovering that the locum is getting paid more than one of the junior partners for doing a much lower role within the organisation.
Locum work is something of a legend in law. It is said that locums can be millionaires, and that they are constantly in demand, jumping from one post to another, generating vast amounts of income on £60 per hour rates.
The reality of the situation is somewhat different, although there is some truth that locum work is quite rewarding financially if you can get enough of it.
Most locums I come across fall into one of the following categories:
- they want to find a permanent job, but havent been able to.
- they are professional locums, just taking assignments to book up their year as wanted.
- they have other interests – eg wanting to ski for 4 months each year, and work the other 8 months to pay for this.
Every year as well we get enquiries from candidates who have got a bit despondent in their current post, and then speak to a locum as above, finding out the vast rewards available to them.
Usually on the high streets of England and Wales the locum rates fall between £18 per hour and £35 per hour, dependent on the length of assignment, the type of law and level of seniority. We have locums working in commercial property at the top end, and I have locums in housing law at the bottom end. If an assignment has the potential of going permanent the salary is usually a lot lower, and also if it is long term – eg 6, 9 or 12 months, the money tends to be considerably less.
Short term assignments tend to attract higher monetary reward, as they usually mean a firm is desperate for someone to cover so it is more of a suppliers market. As a consultancy, we tend to avoid the day or week locum assignments, and concentrate on the 1-12 month ranges.
Most professional locums work on a rule of thumb that they will probably get about 8 months locum work in every 12 months. Locums have to be a certain type of person – there is no security in the work – and sometimes what is billed as a 12 month assignment ends up a 3 day contract due to other factors. Locums get no notice, and have been known to leave firms at lunchtime on the first day because the senior partner has changed his mind on their appointment.
If you want to have a regular income and be able to pay your mortgage and outgoings every month from a set amount, this particular career path is definitely not for you. You may prefer to consider either a virtual law firm and developing your own following or alternatively setting up on your own. If both of these sound just as risky I think the future lies in salaried work….
Author: Jonathan Fagan MIRP MAC Cert RP LLM Solicitor (non-practising) – Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment (www.ten-percent.co.uk) – save time, skip the legal job boards and register with us! Jonathan Fagan is a specialist legal recruitment consultant, author of the Complete Guide to Writing a Legal CV and the Guide to Interviews for Lawyers. He has recruited for law firms across the UK and overseas in all shapes and sizes. If you have any questions that we have not covered above, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org