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A guide to hiring interim lawyers for your in-house team

The UK has one of the largest contractor populations of any legal sector in the world, yet for General Counsels who have historically focused purely on hiring permanent staff to grow their teams, adding a lawyer to their team on a temporary basis still throws up various unknowns. What sort of candidates will be available? How much will it cost? How many interview stages should be included in the process? This article aims to provide answers to those queries, and many more.

Legal departments have various options available to them when adding temporary resource to their team. These avenues include taking a secondee from private practice, outsourcing work to external counsel, taking on somebody through a referral, hiring an interim candidate via a recruitment business, or failing any of the above....the current team-members working longer and harder!

Jon Lucas, Manager for in-house legal contract at Robert Walters, discusses why companies should consider hiring an in-house contract lawyer, and how they go about it.

What types of candidates are available in the contract market?

The role of the in-house legal function is rapidly changing in response to various changing needs and challenges of the business that they support. With growing pressures on UK firms to reduce headcount of full-time permanent staff, many are looking to the short-term talent pools. Many organisations however, often assume that contractors are only senior, experienced individuals that come at incredibly high costs.

Jon comments, “the background of lawyers in the interim market isn’t particularly different to those looking for permanent work. We work with a database that includes individuals ranging from paralegals right up to ex-General Counsels, with skills in areas such as commercial contracts, corporate, IP, IT, and GDPR, to name but a few.

 “Contracting is an excellent way to tap into a broad talent pool of high calibre candidates of all levels to offer a ‘quick-fix’ or longer-term solutions to your business."

Why are candidates looking for contract work?

With the traditional legal landscape becoming more agile and flexible, many professionals in the sector are becoming increasingly attracted to the idea of contracting. There are a variety of reasons behind candidates making this career choice. 

Jon highlights, “every individual has different circumstances which leads to them considering interim opportunities. The most common include recently arrived foreign-qualified lawyers seeking their first role in the UK (particularly from Australia and New Zealand), people returning from a maternity break, candidates who have been made redundant in their previous role, and lawyers who prefer contracting for lifestyle reasons.”

Lawyers choosing to move into contracting earlier in their careers

A new generation of candidates has emerged (3-10 PQE) who have proactively made the decision to leave their permanent roles and pursue careers as contractors. There are a variety of reasons behind the decision to do this, such as: the desire to work in a variety of different organisations/sectors, to broaden their career experience and wanting the option to take time-out between jobs to spend with family/travel/pursue personal interests etc.

The result of this is when looking to hire a contractor, companies now have access to UK qualified lawyers, many of whom trained at top-tier city firms, who are available to start a new role immediately. Ten years ago, it would’ve been unthinkable that such a high calibre candidate pool would exist in the interim market, so this has been an extremely positive development in the sector. 

Consider a part-time option

 “There has been a significant increase in demand for part-time roles, particularly from senior candidates. From the client side, this type of arrangement allows you to hire an experienced lawyer who can hit the ground running, without the need to get budget approved for a full working week - a more senior candidate should be able to achieve in 3-4 days what it may take someone less experienced a full week to complete” continues Jon.

“This sort of arrangement has also been useful for start-up organisations, who require some legal support but whose volume of work doesn’t yet justify hiring somebody on a full-time basis”.

Conduct a smooth and efficient interview process to secure the top talent

 “When you interview a strong candidate for a contracting role, it is imperative that you are able to move as quickly as possible to present them with an offer. Candidates in the interim market are highly proactive in their job search and will be keen to secure work at the earliest possible opportunity because each day that passes without them working, represents lost income.”, highlights Jon.

“If you feel that they are a strong candidate, there’s every chance that other companies interviewing them share the same opinion, so the ability to act decisively to secure their services is an essential ingredient in a successful process.

“Robert Walters would aim to have a shortlist of CVs sent over to our client within 48 hours of being briefed on the role. If you are available to conduct interviews at short notice, then it is not unknown for an individual to be starting the role within 7-10 days of the initial instruction. For longer-term contracts, there is often a second interview stage, and, in these cases, processes usually take between two and four weeks to complete” comments Jon.

A step-by-step guide to hiring interim legal professionals with Robert Walters

Can contracting be used to trial candidates for permanent hires? 

“Yes, once you have hired a candidate on an interim basis, you retain the right to make them a permanent offer at any stage” confirms Jon.

The shift in the legal landscape towards contracting staff, means that hiring managers are using it as an opportunity to measure contract hires the same way they would permanent hires. Many UK companies apply the same interview standards to a contract hire to ensure there is potential for a future permanent hire, a ‘try before you buy’ type approach.

Jon comments, “In our experience, some of the most successful hires are where a contractor has transferred to permanent, because the line manager has had the opportunity to analyse their ability on a daily basis, before making a longer-term commitment.” Says Jon.

If you’re considering hiring interim staff for your in-house legal team, or if you’re simply looking to gather information to assist with future decision-making, contact Jon today for more information and advice on +44 20 7509 8277 or email at jon.lucas@robertwalters.com.


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