Many corporate clients now see hiring interim staff as a way to assist overworked employees without breaking the budget, or to test the need for a more permanent resource before making a final decision. This has affected the types of candidates available for interim work in that the quality of talent has increased greatly over the last few years. There is still plenty of opportunity for the antipodean solicitor on a working holiday, particularly in the public sector, but increasing numbers of UK-qualified solicitors from one to 10 years’ PQE-plus are moving from contract to contract, or trying a role on a contract basis before looking at a more permanent commitment. This is increasingly viewed as a truly viable career option.
In commerce and industry, general commercial drafting skills are highly prized for interim roles, and specific experience in the media, telecoms, and IT sectors, especially e-commerce experience, is sought after by some of the larger corporations. On the banking and financial services front, there is always a need for those with derivatives or funds experience. Many of the people available for these roles come from top 10 City firms or have solid backgrounds in similar in-house roles. Those companies that are experienced in making use of this widening pool of quality lawyers have been able to use interim recruitment to their advantage to assist with staff retention, to work around impossible budgets and headcount freezes or to persuade the powers that be that a permanent hire is in fact required.
The public sector has made great use of interim recruitment methods for some time and temporary lawyers form a major part of its legal workforce. The most common requirements in local authorities are in commercial property, childcare, housing and planning. Policy and general commercial lawyers on contract make up a good proportion of the central government workforce. Both employer and employee appreciate the flexibility this provides to them, as the contracts often roll from week to week. The employer benefits further, as the recruitment consultancy can payroll these lawyers for them.
Law firms have been much slower to see interim lawyers as an important part of their business plans. However, as the legal market becomes increasingly global and firms seek to play a part on the international stage, they will need to take into account the business practices of other countries in providing more cost-effective solutions. These can include interim project teams for large-scale international litigation or M&A activity, or the appointment of senior lawyers for discreet projects where particular expertise is required, but only for a certain period of time to assist a particular client.
Typically, across all these sectors, a contract can be anything from one to 12 months in duration, although they do not tend to be less than three months and more often than not are six months or more. The majority of opportunities are at the two to five years-qualified level – however, there are also opportunities for more senior solicitors. There are some high-calibre, senior people out there who are ready, willing and able to take on a special project that the head of legal or the appropriate partner has not had time to deal with, or to fill a gap in a senior team member’s absence when required.
In the US, interim recruitment has been a popular and credible choice for lawyers and those who employ them for years. It seems the UK is following suit. Opinion in the UK as to its viability and the benefits to be gained from it is rapidly changing, although there is still plenty of scope for employers and employees to take further advantage of this more flexible approach to employment.
Monique Mullins is a managing consultant at Hudson Legal Contracts