A guide to being a legal locum in the public sector

7 mins

Are you a legal candidate considering a locum job but unsure of what it entails or how to make the move? Do not worry, you are not alone! Legal candidates often tell us they might consider becoming a locum but are confused about pay rates, length of contracts and how they can move between roles easily. 

In this guide, Sara Robinson explains how to be a successful locum, gives examples of what locum job opportunities are available and answers questions we commonly get asked by legal candidates at all levels.

For many legal candidates, the prospect of becoming a locum is a daunting one. This is because candidates often think it is a confusing and complicated path to take, however this could not be further from the truth. Many of my candidates regularly take my advice and never look back after securing a legal locum job quickly and without complication.

I speak to legal candidates everyday about the pros and cons of locum work. This guide should hopefully relieve some of the concerns we regularly face and help more legal candidates that may be considering the move.

What will I get paid as a legal locum and what are the benefits?

Without a doubt, one of the biggest benefits of moving into the legal locum market is the pay. Legal locum candidates can enjoy healthy salaries that can often be higher than that of permanent employees, making locum assignments very attractive for candidates with the right skills. There are three main reasons why locums are paid so well. Firstly, roles come up at short notice and candidates are urgently needed meaning that legal locums can charge a premium for their services.

Secondly, as a legal locum you are expected to be more flexible than a permanent member of staff, whether that is picking up project work or helping with ad-hoc tasks around business needs. A lot of our roles arise due to an increase in workload and as a locum you are expected to support the team in whatever way you can!

Thirdly, you will sometimes have to work unsupervised, positions often arise to backfill a permanent member of staff that has moved on. The public sector is a busy environment and you will not always have supervised support.

How will I be paid as a legal locum?

There are a number of different ways that you can be paid when you are a legal locum within the public sector. The most popular form of payment is through an umbrella company. It is incredibly simple to sign up to and choose an umbrella company. At Sellick Partnership there are a number of umbrella companies we currently work with, if you give one of them a call they will be more than happy to run through the process with you and answer any questions.

Once you have signed up to an umbrella provider the process is a simple one. You put a timesheet in each week for the hours you have worked, once this has been approved by your line manager we pay the umbrella company and they pay you directly. Whatever goes into your bank account each week is entirely yours, all of your taxes and national insurance deductions are sorted out by the umbrella company.

Your second option is to be paid on a PAYE basis through our payroll, meaning you are technically an employee of Sellick Partnership. This means that you will be paid through Sellick Partnership rather than the company you work for or an umbrella company. With this option you can have your holiday pay accruing into a separate pot for when you want to take some time off, or you can have it rolled up into your basic hourly rate.

Due to recent changes in legislation, many public sector roles now fall inside of IR35. This means you can no longer work through your own limited company anymore and one of the benefits of doing so would be to offset your expenses against your tax, meaning more money in your pocket. This is something you cannot do when working PAYE or through an umbrella company, however we have definitely seen an increase in the sort of rates on offer to account for this.

Typical hourly rates and salaries of legal locums

Locum solicitor rates vary depending on the type of role and organisation, where it is based and the flexibility they can offer. However, to give you an idea of the types of rates you can expect:

  • A qualified and experienced Solicitor with previous local authority experience can expect to earn approximately £35-£45 per hour, which equates to around £68-£88k annual salary.

  • A newly qualified Solicitor can expect to earn around £20-£25 per hour which is approximately £39-£49k annually.

  • An experienced Paralegal with previous local authority experience should achieve approximately £15-20 per hour which equates roughly to an annual salary of £29-£39K.

  • Graduates or Legal Assistants entering the locum market can expect to earn £10-£14 per hour, or an annual salary of £20-£29K.
How much flexibility or freedom will I have as a legal locum?

Legal candidates that want more flexibility should consider becoming a legal locum. One of the most common reasons my candidates want to move into the legal locum market is to try and obtain a better work-life balance. Locum candidates that have the desired skillsets will often be offered a degree of flexibility that is not routinely offered to permanent members of staff. Examples include part-time hours, home working, and flexible working hours. This is of considerable benefit to people with school age children or other caring responsibilities, and something my candidates love about locum work.

We also find that candidates move into the locum market as they want to take more time to travel or spend with their family. For example, a number of my candidates work as a locum as it gives you the opportunity to work for a period of time and then take a few months off to travel, whilst not hugely impacting on your take home pay. Locum work allows you to earn more money in a shorter space of time!

Will being a legal locum help me develop my legal skills?

As a legal locum you will be able to constantly develop your skills and progress professionally. This can be anything from new IT or case management systems or supporting your colleagues in new areas of law. Each public sector organisation, such as local authorities, universities, housing associations and charities, are all run in very different ways, allowing you to build up a bank of experience often unparalleled to permanent legal professionals on the market. This is also a fantastic way of expanding on your skills, and trying out new areas of law that you may not have previously considered.

What will my job opportunities be as a legal locum?

The possibilities are endless as a legal locum, especially if you continuously develop your skills and experience within a niche sector or area. You could use locum work as a stop gap between permanent positions, or like many of my current candidates, decide locum work is the best career choice for you. We have some locums who want to stay in the market for a prolonged period and become what we call ‘career locums.’ However, some of our candidates also use it is an opportunity to work at the same time as they look for a permanent job, meaning that they can continue to earn and develop their skills.

Being a legal locum can also give you the opportunity to try out a new organisation and location until you find a position that suits you for the long-term. We have an impressive record of candidates working for us moving into permanent employment from locum roles.

It is also worth stressing that being a locum does not stop you from moving up the career ladder, in fact it can open up its own opportunities for the right candidate. There are chances to take on more responsibility and move into a more senior role or to start picking up matters in different areas of law to broaden your experience.

Common misconceptions or apprehensions legal candidates have about becoming a legal locum:

One of the biggest worries I hear from legal candidates is about the length of assignments. Many of the candidates I speak to think that as a locum they will only work for a couple of weeks or a month at a time. That is not the case. Within the public sector we find that the roles tend to be for three months as a minimum, however we have candidates that have been in the same assignment for years! This means that you can still get job security as a legal locum whilst enjoying the benefits as well. Also, if you can be flexible with how far you will travel, there is nothing stopping you from working for most of the year.

That is also not to say you have to work at the same organisation for a long period of time. It is important to regularly stay in touch with your recruitment consultant, and when you feel it is time to move on they will be more than happy to help you secure another legal locum assignment.

It is also important for legal locums to remember that they still do have employment rights; we find that many candidates registering with us are surprised to hear that they are entitled to holiday pay, sick pay, or pension contributions.

Our locum candidates regularly contact us to say how much they enjoy their assignments. If you are interested, or want to discuss what legal locum jobs we currently have available, feel free to contact me directly or visit our legal locum jobs page to view our current vacancies.

Alternatively, you can keep up to date with all of our latest news and resources for legal locums on TwitterFacebook, LinkedIn or the Insights section of our website.