Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Monday, September 29, 2008

What rates do locums charge?

Recently, a firm have asked us to find them a locum but do not know what exactly a locum does or how much exactly they cost.

A company called us to ask us for a locum to cover for between three and seven weeks. We checked with our locums, found three or four and arranged one of these who was particularly strong and available. They interviewed him and he was quite happy with their set up and he was keen to take the position. We then had a telephone call from the managing director informing us that his budget was £100 a day and would that person be able to work within that.

Our locum gave us the answer we expected, somewhat incredulous, how dare they waste my time.

It was almost as if the company thought that locums charge less than permanent staff as a permanent member of staff on this person’s salary would be earning over £40,000. It would mean that on the rule of thumb, a locum rate would probably be closer to £60,000 for that length of time.

How much does a locum charge?

It depends on the position, but rule of thumb that works quite well is simply to take the salary that you would expect to pay to the permanent member of staff and add on 50 percent.

This will be the cost of employing that locum for less than, say, four weeks.

For a locum to work longer than four weeks, the rates can usually be negotiated down. So expect to pay 1.25 to 1.33 times the going rate for the permanent post.

Under no circumstances offer less than you would a permanent member of staff, and if you ignore this advice and go ahead, you will almost certainly find that the quality of the locum will be quite disappointing and may end up costing you considerably more than you would have had to pay out for the right level of quality of staff.

Professional locums work on the rule of thumb that they expect to be out of work for two months out of every 12. They usually do locum or contract work either because they are unable to find a permanent post in the area that they want to work in or alternatively because it gives them the flexibility to work for periods of time and then take time off. For that to be viable, they almost always need to be paid at a fairly good rate and very few of them will ever drop this. This applies across all walks of life. It makes a lot of sense.

Some agencies employ locums themselves and charge them out to clients at a rate from which they have applied a mark up and the candidate is paid by the agency.

The agency I am involved in, Ten Percent Legal Recruitment, does not employ candidates directly but instead opt for the self-employed route or a temporary PAYE employee status for its locums. In actual fact, this works out quite well and most locums will prefer to be self-employed in any event as it gives them complete control over the rate they are getting paid by the company, they do not need to worry that the agency is some way is taking off the hourly rate for them to work with them.

So when you are thinking of employing a locum, think carefully about what it is you are looking for, and how long you want them to be there. The rate you are prepared to pay will almost invariably affect what quality of work you will get and how useful the locum will actually be.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment, specialists for the recruitment of solicitors and employers in the UK. He also coaches all professionals and graduates via www.jbfagan.co.uk, as well as writing regularly for this blog. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk
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Friday, September 26, 2008

ECJ ruling on Age Discrimination

It’s been reported that the recommendation at the first level of the ECJ has ruled that automatic ages for retirement are not direct age discrimination.

A case was being brought to say that the idea of forcing someone to retire at a particular age was in breach of age discrimination regulations, from memory I think this was a partner of a large London law firm who was bringing the case. I understand that there are a further 125 cases of a similar nature that are waiting on this decision, no doubt the claimants will be a little disappointed by this outcome, which although is not yet finalised is fairly likely to be followed through by the court when it makes its decision.

There have been calls by various trade bodies to legislate on this ground either in favour of specifying an operation in terms of pensions or to remove it entirely as to allow flexible working.

There have been suggestions that it is a great relief that the automatic age retiring requirement is being allowed to stop in as it means that if there is the constant generating of new blood into companies and the prevention of senior employees being able to stay at work for a further 20 years without worries that they will lose their job on the basis of their age.

This is fairly common in the United States where senior members of companies can sometimes stay in their post until they’re in their nineties, as there is no restriction on them doing so and the companies are unable to get rid of them. Obviously it is not always the case that companies do want to get rid of them, and there is no legislation or usual contractual stipulating in the States to prevent them stopping in their posts.

Personally I think it is a good thing that there is an automatic retirement age as in larger companies it does allow the continual flow of new employees and promotion prospects. Only this week I was talking to a Lawyer who at three years PQE has no chance of any promotion in his current firm for at least another ten years because there are three very senior partners all above him in the same department, and none of them show any signs of wanting to retire. But you can already see that that particular firm are going to lose a very able member of staff simply because the top end is not leaving when it ought too, thus allowing the movement from the bottom end. Quite a lot of the people these days like to keep their hands in, and we get a lot of applications from Solicitors in their late sixties and early seventies wanting to do locum work or part-time work.

Where this is the case, it can allow firms to get a lot of experience at a fairly low cost, but it can also prevent more junior members of staff from getting promotions when they ought to be having them. Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment (www.ten-percent.co.uk). He regularly writes and commentates on the legal profession and any legal issues that arise on a daily basis.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Alternative ways to work for solicitors

In the last few weeks, we have seen large numbers of redundancies across the board. Every day a new area will see solicitors registering for work. It seems to be sporadic that one day it could be Hull, another day Guildford, for as firms shed capacity and downsize in order to survive the fall in the market, there are rather are rather a lot of lawyers out of work. Some of them, in particular, conveyancing solicitors in the current climate have no prospect of sourcing new work, as there is nothing out there for them to consider. People simple do not have the need for conveyancers when the market is so poor. However, we are starting to see new possibilities opening in terms of ways for solicitors to work. A quick example of this, is the rise in commission only posts. Basically this means that you work for a firm for nothing, well, almost nothing. You are paid according to results, so if you find work and do it, the firm pay you commission. This means that they do not need to risk paying you a salary and finding that they run out of money each month, when there is no work to go with the salary and it also means that people get to continue working.

One of the difficulties in the current market is that there is work to be had in some areas, in terms of overspends in the past and hence, have got too many overheads to cover in order to take on staff to do the work. Using a commission only structure, it is possible to take on more staff to generate business and service the work that is coming in.

However it is not to everyone’s liking, and particularly stressful if you are someone with a mortgage and other commitments. The problem is that firms are in a similar position, and senior partners of firms similarly need to cover their overheads and pay their mortgages and in the current climate, on the high street are simply unable to recruit staff on salaries on the whole.

It is certainly something to consider if you are someone needing to work, and struggling to find anything at all. If you think you may be able to generate some work simply by joining a firm and touting for business in the local area, it is certainly a possibility to consider. It also means that you continue to work in the downturn in the market and when are looking for work, you will not have gaps on your CV. For employers, it is something to consider if wanting to expand but worried about the possibility of committing to more salaries, if the market stays down and business does not pick up. The disadvantage of using commission only staff is that it takes a certain sort of person to do that work and it may be that at some point the member of staff decides to leave and set up on their own and take all the profits from their work as opposed to giving you any.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment, online specialists for legal recruitment for solicitors in the commercial and high street sectors. You can contact Jonathan Fagan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk or visit the website.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Conveyancing in the current job market

We have written articles before on the state of the conveyancing market at present, but I thought a quick update on the current position may help (although the news is not particularly optimistic).

In 2007 nearly every single week, we received a new conveyancing job, if not two, three or even five to ten on some occasions. At the start of this year, we had almost 700 conveyancing posts registered with us and pretty much all of them were live (some firms fill the posts and do not tell us or alternatively put them on hold).

We have gone from 700 vacancies down to ten, if that. No-one is currently recruiting for conveyancing. The market is dead in the water, and it is not clear how long it will take before it picks up again. Almost every firm in the UK with more than two or three solicitors has made redundancies and while some of these are clearly attempts to get rid of dead wood or cut salaries, there is certainly an underlying trend going through that the markets are changing and conveyancing is going on the back burner for a lot of firms.

The sheer number of lawyers looking for conveyancing work means that it is unlikely that agencies will be inundated with new conveyancing jobs for quite some considerable time.

There are still some opportunities out there, but usually for solicitors with a following or alternatively those who are prepared to work on a commission only basis.

For example, in the second week of September we took a new post in from a Leicester firm who were quite interested in talking to conveyancing solicitors either with a following or prepared to work on a commission only basis. It is a different form of legal recruitment, namely going back to almost a sales base if you are working on a commission only basis, but it is certainly something to consider if there is nothing else out there and you want to stop in the field.

In summary, the conveyancing market is not good, and it is not anticipated to improve for at least the next three to six months. The recent survey on this blog found that most people found it would pick up within six months.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment and can be contacted at cv@ten-percent.co.uk or telephone 0207 127 4343.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What do you do if you do not know the answer to a question in interview?

This is a very difficult piece of advice to give. Firstly there is no real correct answer, because if you do not know the answer to a question, either because you lack the requisite knowledge, the interviewer has asked the most ridiculous question or you are so nervous about the interview your brain has fried and are panicking.

The first instance, if you do not the answer because you do not have the knowledge to answer the question, it is often best to take a little bit of time to think about whether you can come up with an answer that perhaps is somewhat vague or bluffed, and a good way of doing this is to ask for a glass of water. Have a sip of the water whilst you think about it. If nothing is forthcoming afterwards, you then have to move on to plan B.

You can also consider simply saying, I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that, and if it is a question that would require knowledge of some sort, you could perhaps say, if I was in practice or if I was in a work environment, I would tell the client I was unable to give them the advice and go and research it before getting back to them with the answer.

This is what you would do in reality, and it may be something that you could get away with. That could indicate that you lack the knowledge to do the job and there is no real way round this.

If the question is so ridiculous, it does not really have an answer, and these can occur and perhaps where the interviewer has asked a really clever question, but is so clever it does not actually have an answer and he cannot remember himself what his question was. If this happens, it is very hard to know what to say really, except, could you repeat the question, please, and perhaps get them to elaborate on the second part or perhaps to say, I’m sorry, I did not quite catch the second part of that question, could you repeat it? You may pick up some clues from this and this may assist you with your answer. You have to be careful interview about asking for the repeat of the question because it almost comes across that you are trying to bide time and it can infuriate the interviewer who then has to go back and think of the question again and may in fact struggle to do so.

If you are panicking about a question and therefore cannot answer because you are so nervous, the glass of water is perhaps your saviour. Even this will only give you a little bit of time to buy thinking space. As I said at the start of this article, there is no right or wrong solution to this. If you do not know the answer to a question and are unable to bluff your way through, there is very little that you can in fact do to avoid the negative aspect of your response.

In summary, you need to make sure that you have a glass of water to provide you with thinking space, be prepared to say that you do not know the answer but you would go and research your response if you were in practice and being consulted by a client and controlling your nerves so that you do not panic in an interview environment. Do not be put off by the response of the interviewer who may roll their eyes or mark their paper with a cross. You can always redeem the interview by providing other good answers that make the interviewer forget the response that you have given.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk .

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New start up firm – reality or dreams?

Recently Ten Percent Legal Recruitment (www.ten-percent.co.uk) has been involved with two start up firms who have requested CVs for a range of candidates to set up law firms at a time when the market may not actually be ideal.

The first of these was a non-qualified lawyer looking to invest her own money and a backer’s into a new firm with between two and six solicitors working in a range of law, including family law, corporate immigration and corporate commercial. We received paperwork through to show what the firm’s intentions were and how they intended to proceed, and also information about the sort of candidate they were after. We contacted candidates, advising them as per usual that this was a start up firm and could never make it into reality and got a good response, particularly in the current market with the number of vacancies being fairly reduced.

After numerous meetings and interview, an offer was made to a family solicitor and fairly senior level, with good media exposure to date for £55,000, starting when the firm was incorporated and covered by the law society. Other candidates were in the pipeline as well and offers were made at £45,000 and £50,000 to two other fairly senior but towards the high street end solicitors. We held numerous discussions with a number of candidates and constantly warned of the possibility that this was just fantasy on the part of the person considering the start up.

We have discovered that, yes, indeed, was potentially either an academic study or someone playing at trying to be a solicitor. The solicitors involved have been absolutely horrified, I think, by the sheer ignorance of the person who has set this up as they have had no consideration at all for the careers or circumstances of the lawyers they were looking to recruit.

So how can you avoid this?

Firstly, there is little that you can do if going to speak to start up firms and indeed a lot of solicitors refuse to have anything to do with them precisely for this reason. You may find yourself speaking and negotiating for quite some time before discovering that in actual fact, the firm had no intention of employing you and the whole thing has been shelved. It is one thing to discuss a potential job and another entirely to get a firm up and running and making money.

A second start up has also occurred this summer and again, Ten Percent has been involved with this with the usual caveats that nothing may happen and the whole thing may just be a complete waste of everyone’s time, but at present, it looks like the firm may actually be going ahead, but will they open their doors and start taking clients?

Over the years, we have tried to avoid dealing with most start ups because of these problems as candidates then come back to us and think that we have in some way been involved in the whole thing and partly responsible. We find that some start ups are very genuine and clearly have a good intention and many take on staff and have a good business plan in place that will work, whereas other start ups have no intention at all of doing anything other than seeing who is out there and how much they will cost.

If you do intend to apply for a start up firm, you need to have in the back of your mind that nothing may happen and the money being offered maybe a fantasy on the part of the person interviewing you.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. You can reach him for careers advice, coaching and consultations at cv@ten-percent.co.uk or visit the website at www.ten-percent.co.uk

Monday, September 15, 2008

If you had a million, how would you spend or invest it?

This question was asked by a City firm recently and I have heard of it before on numerous occasions. It requires you to think carefully from a financial side and also to have a good grasp of financial terminology and an understanding of more general concepts that are effecting the financial markets at the time of the interview.

If somebody asked me that question, I would have an answer in my head because I think about where to invest £1 million if I ever had it all the time. I think my answer would be as follows:

If I suddenly received £1 million, I would immediately put it all in a savings account whilst I considered what to do with the money. I would be looking for at least 4.5 percent and I would start consulting financial advisors as to where would be the best places to invest. My interest would be particularly in looking to invest or purchase companies to expand my businesses rather than simply to invest in products or savings vehicles. I would be particularly interested in investing in something diverse from my current business interests. They include the purchase of a couple of companies with their own freeholds and existing operations all intact.

Whilst this may not sound the most interesting of answers, this is the genuine answer I would give if anyone asked me this in a discussion. I am very interested in investing money in other companies and enterprises, if I ever had any to invest, as you can sit back and watch your money grow with a more minimal input than if you were running your own company. You also have a say and/or control over what happens to your money. So for example, if you purchased a café, you would be in a position to change the menu or increase that advertising if your revenue dropped. This would not be the case if you invested in a pension or bonds or unit trusts.

Obviously for the purposes of the question, you need to understand what the terminology is and to have a think about how you would invest the money before you went to interview or you do run the risk of umming and erring a lot instead of just giving a straight response. Again this is a question without a right or wrong answer. It is simply a response that you have to give to the firm for them to consider.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. You can contact him at cv@ten-percent.co.uk or visit the website at www.ten-percent.co.uk.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Interview techniques for employers

This article is a discussion of interview techniques for employers and in particular how to get the most out of your interviews and to avoid the common pitfalls.

The first thing you must do when interviewing for a position is to decide actually what you are looking for and what is important to achieve out of employing that particular candidate. One thing we often find with employers is that they have very unreasonable expectations as to what exactly they are looking for in their employee. For example, a central London company like to recruit professionals from a City background with impeccable academics. This sounds great but the salary they are offering is less than a secretary would get for a post in a central London firm. This means that if they do find anyone with the background they are looking for, the chances are they will be completely unfit for any employment and probably in copious amounts of debt or alcoholics.

There are other firms similarly who try to recruit very junior members of staff for what really ought to be very senior posts. The idea is that this saves them the cost of the salary and the effect it will have on their overheads. Again this is a false economy. A junior member of staff will require a lot of training and support whereas if they were paying more money for somebody more senior, that person would not need the support and would get on immediately with the task of generating income.

Another problem or issue comes up with marketing and sales. If there is any marketing and sales involved in a post then the employer needs to think carefully about how important this is. Sales and marketing are two particular skills that a lot of employees lack as it takes a certain sort of person to be able to cold call someone and convert this into sales or to network and generate income out of contacts they find there. If sales and marketing are a particularly important part of a post, it is vital that the employer looks at the sales and marketing background of the person they are interviewing. Experience and academic ability will play absolutely no part in this particular element of the role.

So how do you find all of this out?

The first thing is to speak to the recruitment agents involved and specify exactly what you are looking for from the outset. There is nothing more frustrating as a recruitment consultant than being given a brief job specification from an employer who then decided to completely change it when he gets the candidates in for interview. It’s not only embarrassing for the recruitment consultant, it is also a complete waste of everybody’s time including the employers because those particular candidates will be there to be interviewed for the post they have been told about and not a new one. A worse case scenario was an incident my company had some years ago where a number of interviews were arranged with a salary bracket and a particular job and when the candidates arrived for the interview, they were informed it was a completely different field and the salary was half that, that had been indicated. Needless to say, nearly all of them walked out of the interview after a few minutes.

Although that employer might have thought he had been clever in getting them in to see him and then hoping he could persuade one of them to stop, in actual fact, he probably wasted about two to three hours of fee earning time which cost him in the region of about £500.

It is very important to make sure that the information you provide to your recruiters is accurate and reflects exactly what your organisation is looking for.

The Interview

Make sure that your reception area or waiting room or general foyer is clean and tidy and warn your staff in advance that someone is coming through to you.

We hear horror stories every year of firms and companies who have people waiting interview whilst the secretaries are having a fight in the back and arguing and telling each other how awful each of the various directors or employees is. We have also had stories of secretaries and receptionists who have been very rude to the person being interviewed and in one case, so much so that the interviewee walked out before the interview on the basis that she did not want to work the firm. In fact, your staff can help you because they are warned that the person is coming and they can perhaps strike up a conversation with them and provide you with an extra pair of ears and a set of opinions as to what they thought. This can be very important because if your staff do not like them, they are not going to last with your organisation. In fact, it could even pay to have somebody sit in reception in the waiting area with the person. You can see if they impress a new client. You could even ask them to play devil’s advocate and test them out to see if they will react positively to a negative situation and ask the person who is sitting with them to criticise your organisation and see what the interviewee does.

Before the interview, make sure the room you are interviewing in is clean and tidy and there is plenty of space. Remove all the files off your desk if there are any and make sure the room is cleaned.

If there are other people who will be working with the interviewee, make sure they are in the building so that they can meet the person as well and assess them themselves. It may be that they have very positive or negative views of that person and this will help you decide whether you would want to employ them.

If you are meeting someone at very senior level, it is probably worth having the first meeting in a separate location to your offices. A neutral venue is often a good idea because it could mean that the person could simply discuss the role with you without any predefined conceptions of your offices or staff.

Interview Style

There are lots of don’ts related to this, one of these is don’t talk too much about yourself and not have questions planned before you start the interview. Download 100 questions off the legal recruitment website before you start firing questions at the interviewee. Have some technical questions ready to ask as well, and in particular, have a file or process ready to test the interviewee with as this is why you are employing them. If they are unable to do that particular task or know anything about the action you wish them to take, it is very unlikely that you would want to employ them. Be nice to the person you are interviewing. Do not try the “we don’t have a job, but we may be able to help you in the future” approach. This never works but simply infuriates the candidate who may well have taken time off work or gone to quite an extreme to get to see you on that particular day.

More about interview styles in the next article.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. He regular interviews and gives guidance on interviewing via the website at www.ten-percent.co.uk and also coaches graduates and professionals at all levels of their career. Details of the coaching service can be found at www.jbfagan.co.uk .

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Interview question - overcoming a hurdle

Interview question – Describe a situation where you have been involved in a team and had to overcome a hurdle to achieve your aims.

This sort of question is probably every interviewees’ worst question. People who have been interviewed more than once or who have practiced interviews before attending any will have a stock answer ready and prepared for exactly this sort of question whether it be this sort of thing or something along the lines of describing a situation where you have had to achieve a result and overcome problems within the team etcetera.

The first thing to say is that you need to think of something that is actually in a team. You must listen to the question carefully because if the question requires you to describe a situation where you have to overcome a hurdle, you also need a hurdle to overcome.

One of the main let downs with this question amongst interviewees is that they don’t listen to the question and just hear the words team and situation. You must listen to the question carefully and tailor your answer to it, even if the answer is a stock one that you have already prepared.

The next thing to say is that the situation should ideally be work related unless you have a very interesting scenario from some interest or activity that you have. An example would be if you had competed in the Olympics or Paralympics and there were some interesting story you could tell. If not, I usually suggest avoiding stories about school or stories about any activities such as scouts or guides, or stories involving work places where you job has been casual such as working in a hotel as a waiter unless there is something particularly interesting.

I think the situation should also be something where there has been a genuine hurdle. Too many times I have heard answers to the question that have involved an interesting scenario at work, but there has been no hurdle to overcome. If there is no hurdle to overcome then you have not answered the question regardless of how interesting your scenario is.

One of the best things about taking commercial work placements is that there are almost always situations where you have been part of a team and you can give examples. Most work placements in the larger commercial practices involve team work exercises and similar so you have plenty of opportunities to give examples. If you have no legal work experience you will have to think of another work situation in a different environment to give an example from, but you will struggle with this as it does really need to be something work related and in order for it to be interesting to lawyers it ideally needs some legal element to it. Without this it will be quite awkward to answer the question.

I’m not sure what the interviewer gets out of this question. I think it is just the idea of putting the interviewee under a bit of stress to see how they deal with the question and whether they answer both elements of it. I don’t recall ever listening that closely to anybody’s answer without feeling extremely bored as not that interesting question and most answers tend to be fairly waffly and about scenarios that not very interesting.

In summary you need a situation or a scenario and a hurdle that you overcame. The situation needs to be ideally legally related and something from a work environment, and the hurdle needs to be a genuine one. Keep the answer as to the point as possible although it does not need to be extremely short and the object of the question is to allow you a bit of time to formulate a fairly detailed answer.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. You can contact him by email on cv@ten-percent.co.uk or by telephone on 0207 127 4343.

Monday, September 08, 2008

BVC Student Applications.

We have had a spate of calls in recent weeks from BVC students and graduates phoning up to inform me that they are looking for temporary work and can we help them.

I usually refer such telephone callers to our blog as I have written about this countless times on different issues for different graduates and law students but for some reasons BVC students and graduates seem to think that they are a cut above all the other students and graduates for some reason known only to themselves.

I even had one yesterday who when I said we were unable to assist said, “You are a legal recruitment agency, aren’t you?” I find such attitudes amazing, when someone is phoning me to get a favour and yet phones up and speaks to me as if I should be grateful that I am talking to them. It also seems to be a common failing that amongst graduates and students to realise that such approach just does not work in the legal profession and that firms and chambers do not look for aggression, but rather for someone who appears able to hold their own, appear confident but also be polite.

I reiterate Ten Percent’s position here which is that we are very unlikely to be able to assist anyone who is a BVC or LPC student or graduate to find a training contract, work experience placement, paralegal placement or mini puplip. I am afraid that you are on your own with this, there is no assistance that can be given to you. Ten Percent do run a legal work experience scheme and you can sign up for that on our website. We can’t take telephone calls from people enquiring about temporary work if they have no experience at their academic qualification. You will probably be wasting your time with the vast majority of agencies as very few will be able to assist if any. I say this every time on the telephone but there are some large London agencies who might be able to assist you with temporary work, but you need to be aware that in the summer months they will be inundated with applicants who have finished their courses and are looking for work. You really create your own luck in the legal profession, and if you are a student or graduate, the best piece of advice I can give you is if you have not yet got a training contract or career planned out, you need to go and get as much experience as you can as this opens doors for you. Doors only open if you put your foot in them, and it is no use expecting someone else to do the running or work for you. You need to be phoning firms, writing to them, identifying places to get in touch with for experience, and then using that experience to find yourself a job.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment, consultants for solicitors and legal executives. Although we are very unlikely to be able to assist students and graduates, we do offer career coaching and a legal work experience scheme and details of both are available on our website at www.ten-percent.co.uk

Thursday, September 04, 2008

MoneySupermarket.com enter the legal market

"In university they don't tell you that the greater part of the law is learning to tolerate fools." Doris Lessing, 1919.

It has been reported today that MoneySupermarket.com are going to enter the legal market with comparison prices for conveyancing, personal injury and wills & probate. The Law Society Gazette wheeled in the usual experts to profess the end of the solicitors profession as we see it, and to warn of the need to get on board or wilter away.

In fact, it serves as an opportunity to increase your business. If you go onto moneysupermarket.com and do a search in any of the categories for a service, you will usually not find companies like Tescos or the Coop as producing the cheapest. If you shop at Tescos and compare their prices to a much smaller enterprise for groceries for example, Tescos is usually not very cheap. From personal experience, our local organic store is actually cheaper than Tescos on the vast majority of vegetables and fruit. The same will apply to legal services. A writer to the Gazette this week talks about the Cooperative Legal Services quoting a price of about £8,000 to undertake probate. The reason they can try and charge so much is because they can sometimes get away with it. On Moneysupermarket.com you cannot get away with it. Often solicitors firms on the high street will be cheaper than the bigger players, and in all likelihood the quotations for conveyancing, personal injury and wills & probate will be cheaper from smaller specialists who get listed on the Moneysupermarket.com website.

I have come across financial advisers with estate planning departments this week quoting £800 upwards for basic will writing services that are probably worth up to about £300 in a solicitors firm. It is perhaps a good example of a market that has no larger players being carved up by firms playing on the ignorance of their clients and charging fees that do not reflect a healthy profit or any work involved. Again, another reason why moneysupermarket.com may be a good option to consider joining.

Disabled students and the legal profession

We received an email from a disabled student yesterday asking what to do about revealing her disability to potential law firms. She explained that she was concerned that people would consider the practical and not want to employ her or interview her as it would be too costly for the law firm. She wondered whether it was appropriate to tell firms that she had a disability and to explain what it was from the date she first made contact. My advice would be to consider each firm carefully. If you are applying to a large London practice or regional commercial firm, you would probably find they would actively encourage you to apply formally as most are very well equipped to cover access in wheelchairs. I have been in quite a few of the London firms and regional firms. I have to say that most have lifts and disabled access. There are also quite a lot of disabled lawyers. I think for example of a barrister who was in a wheelchair and regularly was in court dealing with cases with no problems at all. I also think of solicitors I have seen over the years in wheelchairs or blind or deaf. It does not follow that the disability should prevent you from practicing as a solicitor but there are a couple of issues you may want to consider on the practical side.

There are a lot of high street firms who will not be able to accommodate a wheelchair, and regardless of the rights or wrongs of whether they ought to make an effort, the fact remains that if you are a high street practice with, for example, a training contract to offer, and you are on the first floor of an office block with no lift access, it is very unlikely that a, you would be able to employ a wheelchair bound trainee solicitor or b, the wheelchair bound trainee solicitor would actually want to work at the firm as there would be very little mobility in such a building for them. It is a matter really of considering the firm in question. If they are only a small practice, they are not going to want to spend a lot of money enabling you to have access to their offices. Therefore, if they have 100 applications and the other 99 are not disabled, it is very likely that the partners would consider the other 99 before they would consider a disabled applicant. I do not say this to actively encourage employers to ignore the disabled applicants as each applicant ought to be taken on an equal footing, but I realize the practical issues affecting a small business owner and whether it would be feasible for a firm to either change offices to accommodate a disabled lawyer or install equipment.

There is no reason why the applicant can not consider where they are applying and targeting their approaches accordingly, I haven’t even mentioned local authorities or government institutions who are very well set up to deal with disabled applicants, and to make sure that access to a particular firm is going to be possible.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment, international recruitment consultants for lawyers and legal executives. You can contact the company at cv@ten-percent.co.uk or telephone 0207 127 4343.

Monday, September 01, 2008

How to handle negotiations for job offers

In the current market, job offers are issued in a somewhat nervous manner at times. Recently we have experienced a firm getting very nervous about negotiation and withdrawing completely from a job offer.

A solicitor was offered a post in a small to medium firm in the south east. At three years qualified, the salary was very good and was in line with figures you would expect to see in a good firm across the UK. The candidate accepted the offer immediately and a contract was sent out. Upon receipt of the contract, the candidate decided that there were points in it that needed to be negotiated and discussed further, so they got back in touch with the firm with a list of requests.

The firm considered these and within about two hours had withdrawn the offer.

So what had the candidate done wrong? Firstly, in the current market, firms are very nervous about everything. Whether this is recruitment or purchase of new equipment or just business in general, they are terrified that something is going to go wrong, or they are going to find themselves in financial difficulties. This particular offer had been made and the contract negotiation had made the firm very nervous, so rather than negotiate further, they had simply withdrawn.

The candidate had wanted to negotiate overtime as well as extended holidays and also requesting confirmation of payment of practicing certificate and CPD costs.

I think the point that had worried the firm the most was the query about overtime. The candidate had noted in the contract that the firm had indicated overtime was expected and that they would require the candidate to work as necessary. The contract did stipulate that any time worked out of hours could be taken off the following day if it was for events such as business breakfasts or networking in the evening. However, the candidate wanted paid overtime for any hours worked after ordinary office hours, and this terrified the firm as they naturally expected their solicitors to work after hours as necessary to get the job done. I think this point above all others was the one that resulted in the job withdrawal as in the circumstances of a recession, work getting harder to source, it could be said that one has to put in more hours to get the same returns as in a good market. It is all a question of reasonableness and this has to be from both sides, employer and employee.

The final nail in the coffin was the request for more than three weeks off in any three month period that may occur. From a recruitment angle, this is unheard of. I have not come across any contracting employments that provides for employees to take more than three weeks off in any three month period and have even come across clauses that prevent anyone from taking more than two weeks off in a period of employment at all, unless in special circumstances and approved by the partnership or board.

The problem is of course, that if you take three weeks off in any one period, you then have no holiday for the remainder of the year which can result in people needing to take unpaid leave or phone up and take sickness, as for their appointments during office hours, they would simply be unable to attend them.

What lessons can be learned on negotiating a job contract in the current market? Firstly, if you have gone through an agency to get a job, don’t forget to use the agency to do your negotiating for you. Consultants spend a good proportion of time negotiating contracts and are usually very experienced at it. They can also frame things in a way that does not appear too worrying for law firms, so for example, for this particular candidate, we could have enquired about a specific event requiring three weeks off in a three month period – perhaps a honeymoon or a house move etcetera. We also could have advised the candidate on the issue of overtime and the fact that this is not paid in any law firm unless in particular circumstances where perhaps a contract was needed to be completed over a weekend.

We could also have applied on the payment of a practicing certificate and CPD points, because I suspect the firm in this instance felt slightly demeaned by the request for this to be confirmed as every respectable law firm pay for these and it goes without saying that they are included. Again, a recruitment consultant can put this in a better way than an employee can.

In general, if you receive a job offer from a firm in the current climate, you need to think carefully about how you deal with it. Make sure that you consider it carefully because there are not as many vacancies out there or sources of work and once you have considered it carefully, make sure that you approach negotiations with an open mind and do not try to push the firm into a corner on specific demands.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. He regularly writes and commentates on the state of the legal profession and legal recruitment in general. His website is www.ten-percent.co.uk and you can contact him at cv@ten-percent.co.uk