The Annual Baby Boom Phenomenon and Locum Cover
Every year we see a surge in maternity leave cover and requests for locums. This is known as the ‘Baby Boom’ time slot. For 6 weeks in March and April we go through a time when partners and HR managers call us to enquire about cover. It seems there is a peak time for fee earners giving notice of their intentions to go off on maternity leave in July or August. There is no need for us to go into specifics – one of my children was born in September (!) – but the Baby Boom time slot and subsequent maternity leave always follow the New Year and the Christmas breaks. The colder the winter, the higher the number of pregnancies, or so the theory goes.
The initial maternity cover telephone calls usually sound quite panicky. Partners or Practice Managers tend to instantly pick up the phone to book a locum and seem to think the sky is about to fall on their heads. Quite often we get demands for locums to start immediately even though the maternity cover is not needed for another 3-4 months. Partners panic and think that a pregnant solicitor is instantly going to disappear forever and not return.
So a lot of pressure can be put on us as recruiters to source a locum to start almost immediately and the firm will call us incessantly until we supply a CV.
In about 50% of cases, as soon as we send a CV the partners seem to take a step back from the recruitment (usually when they have had sight of the hourly rates) and decide to put the process on hold. Others will try and get salaried (and hence cheaper) cover, which is very difficult. Some firms actually tell us they are thinking things over but others will simply ignore us for a few months.
By mid-April everything gets back to normal. We enjoy the calm before the storm…
However we then get to June/July time. The phone call at this time of year tends to again by quite panicked. The maternity leave is happening and the partners have become aware that they are going to have to cover the work of the fee earner off ‘enjoying’ themselves on maternity!
We get asked to supply a locum urgently for 9 months starting a week on Monday (in July). This is a nightmare scenario because most professional locums will have annual leave cover already booked in for weeks here and there and most locums remaining are either new to the business or quite junior. Firms always seem surprised when we struggle to source anyone (after all a few months earlier we may have had 3-4 locums available to cover), and hourly rates go higher. This is the 2nd phase of the Baby Boom timeframe and thankfully the end of it until the following March/April.
Are there any lessons to be learnt? Yes.
- Maternity leave is not the end of the world. It usually lasts 9 months.
- Admittedly some lawyers will not come back to work, but most seem to.
- Locums are much better booked in advance.
- Salaried temporary staff do not really exist unless you are very lucky.
- Don’t leave arranging cover until a week before maternity leave is due to start.
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