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There are many routes in qualifying to become a solicitor, legal executive or barrister, and often those that have qualified can eventually find themselves at a crossroads, wondering what to do next. You may find yourself out of contract and eager to get into your first newly qualified role or look to gain experiences in a new working environment.
Nine times out of ten it will be a salaried, more permanent position that they find themselves searching the internet for or looking for opportunities through networking on LinkedIn. While these permanent positions guarantee a monthly income and may offer interesting routes for progression, legal candidates can be left wondering whether there are alternative options to explore.
It is often at this point that I speak to legal candidates about the opportunities and progression that locum legal work can offer, as well as generally providing more flexibility, remote working options and attractive rates of pay.
The locum market has been at its most buoyant over the past few years, especially in the legal public sector. With the pandemic causing much of the backlog in casework, court dates and internal recruitment, the locum market has offered public sector organisations the opportunity to bring in short-term support whilst they get their feet back on the ground.
For many, this has created the opportunity for valuable, short-term placements which have offered candidates experience in a new setting, exposure to alternative ways of working and the opportunity to learn from a variety of diverse lawyers with differing backgrounds and circumstances.
For those that have already been exposed to the locum legal job market and deliberated on whether it is suited to them, there has always been question marks around its sustainability; whether the market will dry up or whether they can progress their careers whilst jumping between organisations and roles on an interim basis.
With the correct guidance from the right specialist legal recruitment business, there is most definitely room for progression.
As a Recruitment Consultant with Sellick Partnership, I have always advocated for progression in the locum market, whether that be making the step into the public sector from a legal private practice firm or progressing within the public sector whilst in a locum role. With that in mind, I recently caught up with a candidate who has been working with Sellick Partnership and who has, through locum work, achieved remarkable progression - from Legal Assistant to Principal Lawyer.
Now working as a Principal Lawyer for an alternative business structure on behalf of local government, James began his locum journey almost 10 years ago as a Property Legal Assistant. Since 2011, he’s worked in nine locum settings within local government, progressing to both managing colleagues and overseeing complex commercial property work. James describes this as ‘challenging’ but the most demanding aspect is ‘managing his colleagues and clients’ expectations.’
James added: “I still have a lot to learn, but for now, it is the volume of the work that I am managing and prioritising that is developing my professional skills further.”
Here, James has spoken to Sellick Partnership and outlined his career to date.
Having completed his law degree in 2010 and his LPC in 2011, James’ goal was to land himself a training contract and qualify as a lawyer across two years of work within a private practice. He was unsuccessful in his pursuit and after being approached by a consultancy in London he accepted a locum position as a Legal Assistant; this was an opportunity to gain experience and grow from the ground up.
James explained: “Shortly after starting, I felt well prepared to move on into another locum setting that offered a little more pay.”
In London, he became very capable with legal work as a Paralegal and moved onto working with a joint legal service, again as a locum and then permanent, where ‘the work stayed the same’ but the ‘supervision’ changed. He built strong relationships across four years, but says he was ‘focussed on developing his skills as a Commercial Property Lawyer.’
The permanent role did not offer career progression as quickly as he would have liked, and it would have been a very long-term investment; so, he opted for challenging positions that kept him on his toes. He was then able to move onto a council further North and then again to the Midlands where he gained experience in different environments.
James stayed in local government as he found ‘helping the general public or local business was extremely satisfying’, adding that ‘job satisfaction is important’ to him. He continued to say that ‘it is a privilege to work as a locum lawyer for local authorities’.
Having completed the Diploma in Local Government Law and Practice, he stepped up into a senior position with a council in Buckinghamshire where he performed well in the absence of the Principal Lawyer and gained a lot of experience in the importance of prioritising; not only for himself but for the team. Once this locum role came to an end, James secured a position as a Principal Lawyer in October 2022.
James explained: “The variety and stagnation that comes with a permanent role has always led me back to locum work; the work stays the same and there is a lack of challenge. It is important to consider how buoyant the locum market is at any one time - this is a key consideration - but for me it has been more buoyant since the pandemic.”
"There is very often more expected of you in a locum role,” James told us, going on to say that he found the organisations he joins need help and someone to pull up their sleeves.
Interim roles often come about because there has been an extended period of absence, a heavy workload or a permanent member of staff has moved on with no respite from permanent recruitment.
Over the past 10 years, James has become aware of this and is prepared for the first few weeks to be difficult and busy but knows that, as long as you are prepared to put in the work, it can settle quickly, and it can feel very satisfying having solved the problems.
“There are huge benefits of working in a locum role: flexible working arrangements and variation in your day to day stand out for me. Whilst these benefits are valuable, you shouldn’t ignore the benefits of a more permanent position: long-lasting relationships and being comfortable knowing you’re secure in your role.
“The most beneficial part of working in nine different locum roles are the vast number of different types of people and lawyers that I work alongside. This enabled me to take away all the best attributes of lawyers with which I had previously worked. I then adapted to find and mirror the best ways to tackle certain situations and I owe that to the many diverse types of lawyers I have interacted with.”
James explained that ‘experience is one of the benefits he brings to locum work.’ Working in so many different local authorities has meant that James is extremely experienced in a local government setting and the many situations that you can face from organisation to organisation.
His experience in different public sector organisations is invaluable and brings fresh perspectives to situations that have been managed differently in the past.
James always doubted his own abilities and believes his self-confidence held him back initially in locum positions. As an experienced Commercial Property Locum, James completed a diploma in local government, and he realised that he was underselling himself as a Senior Lawyer. This is when James became confident in taking on more responsibility as a Senior Commercial Property Locum in 2022.
Going into a new senior role, James said: “I questioned whether I had the necessary authority to advise solicitors, who would often challenge the advice given by me. The initial feeling I had managing others was imposter syndrome. Overcoming this is difficult, but you have to maintain your own exacting standards and make every document your best work.”
James would never rule out going back into a permanent role. As he gets older and his priorities change, there are aspects to take into consideration, like the local government pension, which is not offered in a locum role.
His thoughts are also very dependent on his family’s prospects and having responsibilities beyond himself, he explained: “Permanent roles give you security when you have young children, and you are able to support a young family. If the market quietens down, it would be difficult to continue from locum role to locum role so it might well be time to settle into something more permanent.”
How have you been able to progress between locum roles?
“Ultimately, the progression has happened over the past 10 years because of two factors. First of all, because I wanted it to happen. Secondly, the recruiter and recruitment business you work with are critical in progressing from locum role to locum role.
“It is paramount that you collaborate with recruiters that take a personal interest in you and your career. You must work with recruiters who build strong rapport and have a good understanding of where you see yourself and your progression in a few months or years.”
Sellick Partnership is committed to helping our locum legal candidates achieve their personal and professional goals. If you are looking for alternative routes in career progression in the legal public sector or looking for a new legal job in general, get in touch with one of our experienced and dedicated Consultants on 0161 834 1642 or take a look at the current roles from Sellick Partnership and enquire today.