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Are you missing a trick?

In response to relentless financial pressures, local authorities are making greater use of locums. Anna Gibbons looks at the benefits for candidates and employers.

In an age of austerity, the locum market is booming, with local government organisations across the country reaping the benefits of sourcing temporary legal specialists.

Mindsets have changed and local authorities are thinking smarter to meet demand and manage spend – with research suggesting that the use of legal locums has increased by more than 30% in the last year.

Within the current economic climate it is unlikely that this is going to change any time soon, as organisations continue to struggle to gain authorisation for permanent members of staff and local authorities are under pressure to deliver.

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Consider your career options

The perception of locums has changed significantly over the years and, as such, the market for short-term and interim legal professionals is increasingly competitive. No longer is it the career choice that is perceived as the easy option – the demands are great and the need for superior legal advice means there is a requirement for high calibre commercial locums.

However, with a buoyant market more and more legal professionals are recognising the benefits of working on a locum basis, in terms of the flexibility that it offers and the opportunity it provides to gain varied experience and progress within their careers, as well as develop a strong reputation within their area of specialism.

According to Hannah Cottam, Group Director of Sellick Partnership Legal, the locum market has experienced a period of transition over the years – and the demand for more skilful and strategic legal professionals has grown stronger, as the strains of the wider economic environment place greater pressures on the public sector, specifically local authorities.

“In many cases, in particular within the shared services arena, the expectations are similar to those of private practice, with the requirement for more commercially-minded individuals increasing,” she says.

Traditionally, the use of locums had been synonymous with maternity leave cover, holidays and sick leave, with legal professionals being able to cover a short-term contract without taking on any added responsibility. This made it quite a comfortable career choice.

However, an increasing proportion of short-term or contract positions arise due to the strategic needs of a local authority and the demand for a required skill set or experience. As the locum market continues to grow it is definitely an option worth considering, as not only could it provide you with valuable experience, but also with the flexibility and benefits that you desire.

“To make real headway in this arena you have to really stand out, and have the drive to prove yourself,” says Cottam. “Typically we are seeing those individuals who have recently finished their training contracts or are at the start of their career to be demanding quality work and a more diverse range of projects. Their attitude and desire to progress means that they are securing these roles over locums who may have been working within local authorities for a number of years.

“This is a real change of mindset, but it highlights the opportunities available to those who may be considering a career as a locum within local authorities. The diversity of the sector means that there is an opportunity for you to carve yourself an extremely strategic career path which could see you progress to become a highly successful senior locum.”

Areas of demand

In the past 12 months a number of specialist areas have seen an increase in demand for experienced local authority specialist locum lawyers, specifically property, planning and contracts. During the past six months alone, Sellick Partnership has seen a 24% increase in the number of contracts vacancies, a 23% increase in the number of planning roles and an 11% increase in the number of property roles. This provides real insight into the changing pressures on local authorities.

One of the main reasons for these increased demands is that many councils have been selling off prime land and properties to generate income – a trend that is set to continue in 2013. This just gives some idea of the changes in the market, and how they influence the recruitment strategies of employers within this sector. The childcare sector remains busy too, although it has eased off from previous years.

In terms of rates of pay, they have not remained level with the increase in positions or the persistent demand, so it is important to be realistic when considering roles. The rates of pay are by no means back up to the boom times. However, for many locums, the opportunities available can provide a lucrative career choice if you are smart in your approach.

It is market influences such as these that can really impact on the time that it may take for you to find a locum position, and the skills and experience required at any one time. In some cases it is possible to secure a role within 24 hours; however, in other cases it may take a little longer as external factors impact the needs of an organisation.

Change of approach

With this change of mindset and increased financial pressures, more local authorities are moving towards recruiting locums to provide invaluable short-term support.

Organisations are able to take advantage of a massive pool of talented and experienced lawyers available at short notice, whether that is to replace redundant roles or fill outstanding permanent positions. With a well-defined locum recruitment process, a hard working locum can be as effective and productive as a permanent member of staff – and in cases provide an organisation with access to niche skill sets and technically strong lawyers.

This approach demonstrates how a number of local authorities are becoming more efficient and thinking smarter to meet demands amid spending cuts. We are seeing our local authority clients take effective steps to manage their workforce to ensure that spending is managed – placing them in a much stronger position going forward.

Anna Gibbons is corporate communications manager at recruitment specialists Sellick Partnership. For advice on being or recruiting a locum, contact Hannah Cottam on 0161 834 1642.


Sara Manley decided to embark on a second career path and returned to study law as a mature student. She has used the locum route to progress further within the legal profession, and has now worked at a number of highly-regarded local authorities based within central London and the Home Counties.

What has been the main benefit to you from your locuming career?

Through locuming in a variety of local authorities, I have gained valuable experience which has enabled me to go on and carry my own caseload in the roles of legal assistant and paralegal. During my placements I have had experience of attending the London courts as well as the county courts. This exposure has helped me to grow in confidence and assisted in developing my professional conduct skills.

What would your advice be to anyone considering locuming?

Determination and drive is key. Be prepared to accept offers which may involve relocating, as some assignments are only for a few weeks. This all builds experience on your CV and offers a valuable insight, which in turn will help you decide if local government legal work is suitable for you, and assist you in determining if you are suited to working as a locum.

Keep abreast of changes within local government, especially in light of the recent and impending cuts, and consider how this may have an impact on the various sectors within the local authority.

Can you use the locum career path to enhance your career?

I have just started my training contract within the London Borough of Lewisham after being placed by Sellick Partnership as a locum for six months. While the competition was fierce, it was an obvious benefit to be experienced within the authority, proving my reliability and high standard of work.


Jai Atal has worked as a locum since February 2008, embarking on a variety of key assignments within local authorities.

What are the key benefits of being a locum?

The main benefit is the flexibility the lifestyle offers. Once adapted to locuming, it is possible to manage personal finances in a way to allow for long holidays if required. Other benefits include opportunities to take on responsibilities that wouldn’t necessarily be available in a permanent role, and the chance to develop into a super efficient and competent legal professional.

Can it enhance your career?

If you have the opportunity to locum, you should treat it as a career choice in which to grow yourself in ways that are not apparent at the outset.

You will be thrown in at the deep end and either sink or swim. If you do the latter, you will develop amazing organisational skills and flexibility. You will also develop the expertise to deal with pressure alongside learning how to prioritise. You will gain confidence and with each assignment you will be able to fine tune your legal skills.

Plus, if the organisation you are locuming for likes what you do, there is a real possibility they will offer you a job.

What would your advice be to anyone considering locuming?

  1. Think carefully before embarking on it, especially if you are someone who needs security. As a locum your only security lies in your ability to get on with people, be a team player and work without supervision. You also need to be able to hit the ground running – so you have to be at the top of your game.
  2. Prepare for times when there won’t be any work and don’t take it personally, it is just the market – enjoy the periods that you have the freedom not to work.
  3. It is a good idea to set up your own company or work under an umbrella company as this enhances your take home pay; and read up on IR35 and ensure you are compliant with the rules.
  4. Register your CV with a specialist agency and join relevant professional networking sites such as LinkedIn.

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