What Law Firms Should Expect When Hiring a Locum Lawyer

Using locums can be an incredibly efficient way of meeting temporary staffing needs, managing workload peaks, or covering for short term or long term absent permanent staff. Here’s a comprehensive guide on what law firms should anticipate when hiring a locum lawyer in the UK. There are three ways of using a locum – firstly for specific cover (usually seen for annual leave cover), ad hoc cover (often used if a firm want assistance in an area of law they do not deal with themselves) or fixed term contract cover (where a locum is used to plug a gap).

1. Flexibility and Expertise (to a certain extent)

Locum lawyers are well used to being flexible and having broad range of expertise due to the nature of previous assignments. They often have experience in various legal fields and can quickly adapt to different working environments. However, firstly it is crucial to clearly define the scope of work and ensure the locum’s expertise aligns with the firm’s needs and secondly not to expect a conveyancing locum to be overjoyed at being handed a family law file!

2. Short-Term Commitment

Locum lawyers are typically hired for short-term assignments, ranging from a few days to several months. Firms should be prepared for the temporary nature of the engagement and plan accordingly. While locums can provide immediate relief and support, it’s important to have a strategy in place for knowledge transfer and continuity once the assignment ends. Do not expect a locum to want to stay on when the assignment is finished. Most professional locums have other commitments already booked in.

3. Induction and Integration

Even though locum lawyers are adaptable, an effective induction process is essential for seamless integration. Law firms should provide a comprehensive orientation that includes an overview of firm policies, procedures, and systems. Introducing the locum to key team members and outlining expectations clearly will help them assimilate quickly. Showing a locum into a room and leaving them there for 2 weeks is not going to be a productive assignment!

4. Quality of Work

Law firms can expect high-quality work from locum lawyers, as many are seasoned professionals with extensive experience. However, it’s advisable to set clear benchmarks for performance and regularly review their work to ensure it meets the firm’s standards. Check work early to make sure you are satisfied with it and keep an eye on productivity levels as much as possible. Providing feedback and indicating expectations can help avoid misunderstandings later on. Some locums view their job as firefighting, most law firm and in house legal departments have a very different view!

5. Confidentiality and Security

Confidentiality is paramount in legal practice, and firms should expect locum lawyers to adhere to the same high standards of client confidentiality and data security as permanent staff. Ensuring that locums are aware of and comply with the firm’s confidentiality policies and data protection protocols is essential to safeguard sensitive information. Don’t assume locums know your information security policy – you need to tell them!

6. Cost Considerations

Hiring a locum lawyer can be cost-effective, particularly for short-term needs or to avoid the expenses associated with recruiting and onboarding a permanent employee. However, firms should budget for the locum’s fees, which may be higher on an hourly or daily basis compared to salaried staff. It’s important to balance the cost against the benefits of having immediate, expert legal support. Avoid longer term assignments wherever possible without renegotiating rates. Although Interim Lawyers are the only agency who specifically set a fixed length to all assignments, other agencies do not, and will carry on billing you ad infinitum!

7. Administrative Support

Locum lawyers often require administrative support to function effectively within a firm. This includes access to necessary resources, IT systems, and support staff. Providing adequate administrative assistance ensures that locums can focus on their legal work without unnecessary delays or disruptions. Make sure you find out at the start what admin support a locum needs. Do not assume the locum can type for example..

8. Client Communication

Clients may need to be informed about the involvement of a locum lawyer, especially if they will be handling client interactions directly. Transparency about the locum’s role and expertise can help maintain client trust and satisfaction. Firms should brief locums on client relationships and any specific client preferences to ensure a smooth transition. Some firms ask locums not to indicate they are temporary, but others are keen to demonstrate that they have taken absence seriously and booked cover.

9. Evaluation and Feedback

At the end of the assignment, conducting a thorough evaluation of the locum lawyer’s performance is beneficial. Gathering feedback from colleagues and clients can provide valuable insights into the locum’s contributions and areas for improvement. This feedback can be useful for future engagements and for refining the firm’s locum hiring process. Give feedback to the agency wherever possible, and also to the locum themselves. A lot of locums have no idea as to whether they have done a good job or not – tell them!

10. Legal Compliance

Ensure that the locum lawyer is compliant with all relevant regulatory and professional requirements. This includes verifying their practising certificate and any necessary qualifications. Working with a reputable locum recruitment agency like Interim Lawyers can help streamline this process and provide assurance that the locum meets all necessary legal standards. Checks should be done before a locum starts. Always go onto the Law Society and SRA websites to check them out.