A guide to being a legal locum

9 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

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 contract and how they can move between roles easily.

In this guide, our specialist Legal Recruitment team explain how to be a successful locum, give examples of what locum job opportunities are available and answer 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. We work with qualified legal locum candidates every day, many of whom have taken our advice and changed sector in order to create a working lifestyle that works for them.

In this guide our Legal Recruitment team offer their advice to candidates that may be considering a career as a locum and discuss what candidates should expect.

Who is a typical legal locum?

The vast majority of successful professional legal locums are lawyers who have particular lifestyle requirements that make locuming the ideal choice for fitting work in with their other interests. Generally legal locums are:

  • Retired or semi-retired lawyers
  • Lawyers returning to work and gaining experience
  • Candidates seeking a flexible working pattern
  • Candidates not looking to work all year round
  • Lawyers looking to take on project work
  • Lawyers looking to move into a different area of law
  • Lawyers wanting to try out a new sector, i.e public sector
  • NQ solicitors wanting to try out different areas
Getting started as a legal locum

It is hugely important not to simply leave full time employment and expect to walk into a locum assignment and start earning straight away. We would always advise legal candidates to get in touch with us if and when they decide to become a locum to discuss how to go about it. One of the main things prospective locums need to consider is the impact leaving a permanent salary will have on their income.

Many of our candidates have mortgages to pay and families to support, so leaving full time employment without considering this is not advised. Generally our legal locums are completely fine in this regard, however it does take a little bit of careful planning and getting used to in order to make the move successfully.

What are the benefits of being a legal locum?

Legal locums can earn more than permanent candidates

Without a doubt, one of the biggest benefits of moving into the legal locum market is the salary candidates can receive. Legal locums can enjoy healthy salaries than can often be much higher than that of permanent employees, making locum assignments very attractive to 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, legal locums are expected to be more flexible than permanent members of staff. For example, as a locum you may be asked to pick up project work or help 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, legal locums are often expected to work unsupervised. Positions often arise to backfill permanent positions, so a locum will be expected to pick up this work straight away.

Legal locums often achieve a better work-life balance

Legal candidates that want more flexibility should consider becoming a legal locum. One of the most common reasons our 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 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 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.

Legal locums can develop their skills fast

As a legal locum you will be able to constantly develop your skills giving you opportunities to progress professionally. Each organisation locums work for will be different, 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. For example, our candidates regularly learn new skills in areas such as IT or case management systems or supporting your colleagues in new areas of law.

The job opportunities as a legal locum are endless

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 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.

How will I be paid as a legal locum?

Being paid through an Umbrella company

There are a number of different ways that legal locums can be paid, the most popular form being through an umbrella company. It is incredibly simple to sign up to 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 making this method of payment easy and very un-invasive.

Being paid PAYE

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.

IR35 and what that means for public sector candidates

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.

To find out more about how being paid as a contractor in the private or public sector, head over to our Advice for Contractors page.

Typical hourly rates and salaries of legal locums

The types of hourly rates you can expect do vary depending on the sector you work in, the type of role, the organisation, where the role is based and the flexibility the client can offer.

To find out how much you could earn as a legal locum get in touch with a member of our public sector or private sector recruitment team today.

How can I easily move between locum assignments?

Most legal locums leave finding roles to a recruitment specialist. As specialist legal recruiters we are constantly monitoring the market and speaking with legal firms and departments across the country. It is therefore important to stay in touch with your recruiter at all times.

We will always contact our candidates when a suitable role becomes available, however if you are nearing the end of an assignment or would like to move early, feel free to get in touch with us and we will be more than happy to help you find a new position quickly.

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

One of the biggest worries hear from legal candidates is about the length of assignments. Many of the candidates we 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.

As a locum you are able to determine how long you stay with an employer. We often find that the roles tend to last two to 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 legal 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 and often receive similar benefits to that of permanent members of staff. We find that many candidates registering with us are surprised to hear that they are entitled to holiday pay, sick pay, or pension contributions.

Also, more-and-more organisations are starting to offer their legal locums the same or similar benefits to their permanent workforce as a way to attract and retain the best talent on the market.

What next?

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 us directly or visit our 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 Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or the Insights section of our website.