Interim lawyers - economic recovery and the changing perceptions

The global economic crash of 2008 changed the way that employers hired temporary and interim lawyers. Previously they had only really been used to cover maternity/paternity leavers or when specific projects or deals created a large spike in work that required an additional pair of hands. These contractors tended to be either very experienced lawyers who were looking to provide expertise (at a premium) on an ad hoc basis, only without committing to a long-term role, or more junior, foreign-qualified candidates who wanted to take their first steps in the UK market before moving onto a permanent role.

The shift in favour of interim lawyers

This all changed in 2008 when the world faced a recession on an unprecedented scale. In the UK, businesses were shrinking their legal teams across all major sectors; commerce and industry, private practice and of course, the financial services. Unfortunately this caused a large number of redundancies in a very short space of time and therefore a large increase in the number of immediately available lawyers on the market.
The result was twofold. Firstly, employers were forced to rely on interim lawyers to fill roles due to their inability to get approval and budget to bring on permanent employees. Secondly, there was an extremely large pool of excellent, immediately available lawyers to choose from. This was the basis of a real boost for the contractor market. In the past, contract lawyers had been viewed with a certain amount of reticence and the majority of lawyers were resistant to taking contract roles. When so many people were in the same boat this changed dramatically and over the next few years from 2009 to 2012, the usage of contract lawyers grew rapidly.

Unrealistic expectations

Over the last 12 months, an improving (and seemingly sustainable) economic recovery has now resulted in an increase in levels of permanent recruitment across the country. These positions have been filled rapidly. Particularly at the junior to mid-level (2-5 PQE), there has been a significant reduction in the number of candidates on the market. Governmental increases on work restrictions has also reduced the number of foreign qualified lawyers from coming over on work visas, which has further shrunk the numbers of immediately available lawyers.
Many employers still feel they are able to pick and choose what sort of contractors they hire when, unfortunately, many of these lawyers no longer exist (they have been snapped up into permanent positions). Unrealistic expectations when hiring contractors can lead to long, protracted recruitment processes which undermines the speed and flexibility that makes the contractor market favourable.

Now and the future

The economic recovery and the resulting focus on growth has changed how companies use interim lawyers and increased the opportunities for them. Nowadays interim lawyers are used, not only for maternity/paternity cover and specific projects, but are also hired and used:
  • By law firms and then seconded out to clients
  • When employers still can’t get approval or budget to hire a permanent lawyer
  • When an employer is unsure whether or not they need a permanent lawyer
  • When a team of interim lawyers provide a more practical and flexible working solution to their permanent counterparts
  • When clients forge long-term relationships with individual lawyers and use them on an ad hoc basis
The stigma surrounding interim lawyers has been shattered by the recession. Now contractors are an extremely valuable resource which allows employers to meet the full range of shifting issues that they face. The challenge, as the market continues to improve, will be for employers to understand that they need to be more flexible when it comes to interim lawyers. They also should accept that the market has changed and there is no longer a vast number of immediately available lawyers to choose from.
For more information on contract/interim lawyers, contact Thomas Watson, manager at Michael Page Legal.