Bring on the subs

As many lawyers will be aware, employment trends have changed dramatically in the past couple of years; job security is no longer guaranteed and employers are increasingly recruiting staff on a contract basis. The flexibility which the short-term market offers is highly attractive to employers, enabling them to deal more effectively with unpredictable workloads and fluctuating staff levels. In these circumstances many organisations are unwilling to commit long-term.

For those lawyers concerned that they are about to be made redundant, or who feel the future of their firm is uncertain, contract work would seem an obvious option to consider; the search for a permanent position can take many months and long periods of unemployment can affect morale and have a detrimental effect on your CV.

Maybe some lawyers are not seeking a permanent position but merely want more flexibility in their life to pursue other interests. There are many people who choose to take a break from the law but are still keen to keep their skills up-to-date in readiness for a return to the profession at some future date.

Short-term contracts can lead to permanent positions; one third of the placements made by this company over the past year have become permanent after an initial six-month period. If the permanent market is not working in your favour this can be a way of filling the gap until conditions improve while keeping skills and experience relevant.

In addition it may provide the chance to test the market before committing to an organisation on a permanent basis. Notice periods are not usually more than one month allowing the individual to continue looking for a permanent position; most future employers, used to the standard three months, accept this notice period.

Contracts are rarely less than three months and there are an increasing number of one and two-year contracts, particularly for overseas postings. Positions arise in both industry and private practice and are often a result of an increased workload due to a particular project (eg privatisation or acquisition) or an increase in business.

It is noticeable, particularly in private practice, that an increase in activity will no longer necessarily result in permanent recruitment. We are experiencing demand, in terms of expertise and level of qualification, across the board although recently commercial property and commercial litigation have been very active.

Many candidates want to know how such a move will affect their CV. Two years ago those undertaking short-term contracts were considered second-rate lawyers.

This is no longer the case. With large numbers of highly experienced lawyers on the market, clients readily accept that supply exceeds demand at all levels. In the US, private practices (particularly larger firms) use project lawyers on a regular basis at all levels. It is also an opportunity to gain expertise in other areas of the law and within other sectors.

The recruitment process is very similar to permanent recruitment. The main difference is time; whereas permanent positions can take many months to sort out, short-term contracts will usually be filled within two weeks of the initial instruction.

Candidates' permission is always obtained before details are sent to the client.

In terms of remuneration locums can expect to earn what they would be earning if they were a permanent member of staff, but on a pro rata basis. All candidates are paid directly by the client on either a PAYE or self-employed basis.

The short-term market is thriving and whether temporary contracts are a way of filling a gap or offering a means to a more flexibile lifestyle, they are worth considering.