Richard Abbott discusses working as an interim
Recent years have seen a growth in the interim market driven by a requirement for flexibility both on the part of businesses and lawyers. The reasons for working on an interim basis are many. It can be, initially at least, a stop gap or to fit in with family or lifestyle. The legal profession has been slower than many other professions (e.g. IT) to recognise interim working as a legitimate career choice. However, this is changing as the nature of work evolves. The need for lawyers working on an interim basis is being driven by many factors including issues such as maternity leave cover and particular short term projects.
Interim contract working is an unfamiliar model for many lawyers. As with anything there are advantages and disadvantages.
Flexibility is often perceived as being the obvious advantage. However, interim assignments do not provide unbridled flexibility. The interim is expected to fit in with the needs of the business in terms of such things as location and working hours. Also, whilst there is no issue with taking holiday during an assignment, an interim cannot simply leave for six weeks in Australia half way through! The big holidays must wait till after an assignment is completed. Also, although the idea of having time for travel or other activities is attractive, it needs to be remembered that time off work is unpaid and at the end of an assignment, time will need to be set aside to find a new contract.
There are two major advantages to interim work which often get overlooked. Firstly, an interim remains outside of the internal politics of an organisation which is an advantage if a business is going through a difficult transition period. Frequently, a business will seek an interim because it has a need for a lawyer but does not want to commit to a permanent role due to a business reorganisation.
Secondly, and in my view the biggest advantage of all, is the depth and breadth of experience that interim assignments afford. My own experience was having the opportunity to work with some of the best companies in the north west of England in a variety of interesting roles. When looking for permanent staff, companies often look for the person with the perfect CV. With interim assignments, companies are often more flexible. As a result, an interim lawyer can frequently gain experience with a company who would not have considered them for a permanent role. This, in turn, can open doors to new areas of work, enabling the interim to broaden and deepen their areas of expertise.
Interim work can be patchy and there may be periods of time when there is no work. It is therefore important to ensure that savings are built up to allow for any periods of being ‘on the bench’. Whilst lack of job security is a disadvantage, in practice, it is something that an interim will plan for. Anyway, job security is a thing of the past and an interim can often feel a greater sense of security than many permanent employees whose security can be cut short unexpectedly by a business reorganisation.
There can be a perception that interims are fickle and uncommitted. It is important for interims to be able to counter this perception which may arise at interviews in particular. Being an interim is nothing to be ashamed of but it is good to be able to have a positive answer to the question: Why are you not in a permanent job? Another way of countering the negative perception is to ensure that, wherever possible, fixed term assignments are completed and that a reasonable period of notice is given when an interim wishes to move on.
There are a number of practical considerations to also consider. Chief of these will be the mechanism under which the interim will work. Many companies will take the interim on a fixed term contract of employment. Alternatively, the interim may be employed by a recruitment agency as an agency worker. Self employment is also a common model for an interim to adopt either through their own limited company or an umbrella company.
Umbrella companies will deal with company administration including payroll albeit they will charge a fee for doing so. Alternatively, an interim can incorporate their own limited company and deal with the company administration themselves. In either situation, it is recommended that advice be sought from an accountant to ensure that the taxation aspects are correctly dealt with. In particular, the tax rules surrounding IR35 need to be carefully considered to ensure that the self employed status of the interim is not jeopardised resulting in an unexpected tax bill from HMRC.
Businesses are, under recent legislation, legally obliged to ensure that they are not aiding and abetting tax evasion. As a result, we can expect businesses to be more rigorous in checking the self employment status of interims. Unless employed directly by the business, interims will normally be expected to complete timesheets and have them signed as evidence of work completed. Self employed interims will need to invoice the business either through their own company or through an umbrella company. If kept on top of, company administration is not difficult.
Interim lawyers will also be responsible for ensuring that the SRA regulations are complied with such as ensuring that they have up to date practising certificates and that their CPD is up to date. It is also worth checking with the SRA to ensure that there are no insurance issues. As a general rule, an interim working within an organisation - either in-house or private practice - is covered by the organisation’s own insurance and does not need separate PI. However, if an interim accepts work on their own account, separate PI would be needed. It is always worth checking with the SRA who will be able to advise on the up to date position regarding insurance and regulations generally.
Expenses are not normally payable (though if self employed they can be set off against tax). This can be an issue if the assignment is away from home and the interim has to stay in a hotel. It is sometimes possible for the rate of pay to include an element to cover expenses. It is worth checking the position prior to accepting an assignment.
Whilst it is possible to obtain an assignment directly, most are advertised through recruitment consultants and BCL Legal has an experienced in-house team who can advise both businesses seeking an interim and potential candidates. The process for recruitment is essentially the same as for permanent roles. The candidate’s CV is submitted and recruitment is via an interview process. As well as an up to date CV, it is worth having an up to date LinkedIn profile.
Once an interim has joined an organisation, it is an opportunity, not only to carry out the assignment, but to build relationships within the business. This can result in the contract being extended or the interim being invited back at a later date or to an offer of a permanent contract of employment. Assignments should be seen as an opportunity to network and to raise ones profile.