The understudies move in to take their bows

In today's local government workplace temporary and contract lawyers are no longer helpful dogsbodies, answering telephones at otherwise empty desks.

They may be the acting head of a legal section, or an expert brought in to service a client's need in a full fee earning capacity.

There has been something of a revolution in local government legal departments in the last four years. Gone is the stereotypical public sector image of 10am starts and home at 4.30pm; gone are the 'job for life' attitudes.

Instead there are legal departments with tight budgetary constraints and commercial strategies bursting with bright, enthusiastic and able lawyers.

The onslaught of CCT has not made life easy for local government lawyers. It naturally causes unrest and for many legal departments the future remains uncertain. However, for temporary and contract lawyers it is excellent news.

Client departments are more demanding than ever, deadlines must be met, backlogs must be cleared in order to make a department a viable competitor in any tendering situation. You can't do this if you are under resourced. Equally, you can't always offer a permanent job when you're not certain there will be one in a year's time.

In recent times we have noticed that the volume of assignments has increased steadily throughout the 1990s. In 1993 40 per cent of our short term vacancies were in local government. In 1994 this had risen to 51 per cent. So far in 1995 68 per cent of our positions are in local government.

The positions arose for a variety of reasons – maternity cover, long-term sickness, preparing for CCT, extra workload or awaiting permanent appointments.

Certain areas of expertise are in constant demand: social services, child care, housing, and CCT contracts and planning. In many cases previous local government experience is required although a private practice background in the relevant discipline will often suffice.

Australia and New Zealand qualified solicitors, especially those from the public sector, also have a good chance of finding short term assignments in the UK.

Rates of pay have not increased substantially over the last few years. The average weekly earnings for our temporary workers are about u470 with hourly rates ranging from u7 to u20 per hour.

There is still a world of opportunity in local government for lawyers who have the desire to gain wider work experience and the flexibility to make the most of this environment.

If you are out of work, facing redundancy, or returning to work, this could be the ideal option.

Alison Smith is manager of the temporary and contract legal team at Badenoch & Clark.