Jobhunting – what can I do to improve my chances of finding legal work?

Jobhunting – what can I do to improve my chances of finding legal work?

Every week we get lots of locum assignments from solicitors’ firms and in house legal departments. They’re often looking for a specific type of solicitor, available immediately (usually yesterday) and with sufficient experience to simply go into their firm, pick up a case load and run it for them until whatever has caused the urgency in getting a temporary member of staff in has ended.
They come to our agency because we have a reputation for introducing solicitors with a good level of experience and expertise who are available at a reasonable price and prepared to travel to wherever the work is.

Fairly straightforward? If only. For both permanent and locum roles we find time and time again that candidates have an expectation of securing a post, but without doing anything to improve their chances of success. If you fit the description and tick all the boxes, then there’s a very good chance you will be offered the work.

Although I have mentioned locum work above, the same principle applies in just about every single work environment, whether the job be permanent, contract, zero hours, or anything else you can think of. Employers want candidates who fit their description and who are able to do the work required of them. Whether or not the description given is an accurate one of the role the employer actually has is another matter entirely and quite often in smaller companies knowing whether you are the right fit can be a bit of guesswork to start with.

With this in mind, here are some simple pointers for making sure you fit any job description for a permanent or temporary role, some of which are blindingly obvious, but regrettably not fulfilled even by the most intelligent and experienced candidates. In fact, the more intelligent and experienced a candidate it, the less likely they are to fit all the requirements simply because they cannot understand why anyone would need to know basic information about them.

1. Make sure you have a full and up to date CV.

About 50% of CVs for anyone with more than 10 years’ experience in a given field of work lack basic information. This is the number one reason why applicants for jobs get rejected, because the CV provided doesn’t actually show experience that fits the job in question, even when the candidate has the experience that fits the job.

So, for example, we often get CVs from residential conveyancing solicitors looking for locum work who have been undertaking residential conveyancing for 35 years and know just about every trick in the book. Unfortunately, their CVs very often don’t actually indicate whether or not they do conveyancing on a day-to-day basis or simply manage other people doing conveyancing. Similarly, where a firm use a case management system or undertake a specialist area of residential conveyancing such as right to buy or residential development plot sales, the CV doesn’t actually refer to these and they can easily be overlooked.

Your CV should be a full description of your experience relevant to the role you are applying for. It is no good providing a CV detailing to the finest minutiae your personal injury experience if you are applying for a residential conveyancing job. In fact, if anyone ever does this, we simply log them as a personal injury lawyer and not as a residential conveyancing solicitor because anyone with an overwhelming level of experience in personal injury is not going to be any good for us when we are recruiting for a conveyancing job. It may be that that particular person has extensive conveyancing experience, but if it is not on the CV, there is not a lot we can do about it.

So, from all the advice we have included in this article, making sure your CV fits the job description is the main number one action you can take to increase your chances of success dramatically.

2. Make sure your salary expectations or hourly rates are competitive and do not over or under price you.

This is easier said than done in a lot of cases because employers quite often do not actually indicate how much they are looking to pay and in reality will seek to pay whatever they can get away with. So, if you indicate that you’re looking at a salary of £35,000 and an employer had budgeted for paying £40,000, they’re not going to offer you the extra 5,000 unless they are nice people (and employers invariably do not fall into this category). Similarly, if you price yourself at £45,000 and the firm are only looking to pay £35,000 then it is highly likely they won’t actually invite you for interview.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get any sense of your worth for any particular role because there’s rarely that much information given, but the advice we would give anybody on the salary side of things is to try to avoid labeling yourself with a particular level of salary and try to avoid giving any particular range unless you are compelled to.

This means that you can attend interviews without needing to be priced at a particular level and therefore putting assumptions in the employer’s head as to what he or she can expect from you. This can be problematic in interviews because if you’ve priced yourself at £45,000 and the employer was aiming at paying £40,000 but is looking for extra value for the £5,000 increase, he or she will start the interview with the assumption that you have something considerably extra to offer, and will be disappointed if this is not the case.

However: if you are going for a job where you are unsure of the credibility of the employer, and this is particularly relevant for smaller high street law firms or in house departments you have never heard of, then it can be a very good thing to give an indication before interview of the level you are seeking so that you do not waste your time traveling to an interview when you are expecting a salary of £40,000 and the firm you are interviewing with are looking at paying £20,000 because they’re a bunch of shysters.

On the locum side of things, it is important not to price yourself out of the market, and this is so easily done by so many senior solicitors. For some reason, some solicitors have a very blinkered view as to what they could be worth in the locum market because they can see the profits that the law firm are getting per hour for the work they’re able to offer and they want a share of it.

Unfortunately, locum assignments don’t work on the basis of profit share, they work on the basis of the market rate for that particular type of locum work. So, for example, in the field of commercial property we think the hourly rate that most law firms will start at will be £250 per hour. Unfortunately, locum rates do not start at half or a third of this, but rather about £35 an hour going upwards to about £50 an hour. There is no competitive edge in pricing yourself at £75 an hour when the market rate is say £45 to £50 an hour when the law firm are going to get plenty of inquiries at that level, and unless you have something amazing to offer at the higher level, it is unlikely they will consider you.

The same very often applies in residential conveyancing. We often send out assignments and give our own indication as to what we think the levels will be, and seven times out of 10, locums will get back to us with a higher figure. Unfortunately, all seven of those locums out of the 10 will have immediately priced themselves out of the market because invariably someone will get back to confirm the rate we have suggested with the same level of experience. Whilst we can appreciate that if you have specific overheads that need covering you simply have to go for a minimum level, quite often I get the impression that some of the levels given are fairly arbitrary and locums talk themselves into their own self-worth, which is usually inflated.

3. Make sure you have references from as many places of work as possible.

For permanent work, this is fairly easy. Whenever you leave a role, simply ask them if they can do a To Whom It May Concern reference for you that you can use in future and in this way you do not ever need to bother them again to request references. If you do not think this is particularly important, just bear in mind that some recruitment agencies will contact all previous employers to request references if you go for a contract role in future years.

On the locum side of things, you need to ideally get a reference from every single assignment that you ever do. Usually the best way of doing this is to use a proforma (we supply these to locums working through our service). This way the employer doesn’t feel under any pressure to give you a good reference and can be honest and impartial, and similarly you have handed the reference over and so they may feel obliged to complete it, whereas if a recruitment agency contacts a firm, it’s quite often the case that the firms simply don’t bother responding. Simply ask us for a copy of the Proforma Assignment Feedback Form.

4. Be available for work

So often people apply for jobs and then when they’re asked when they can start things suddenly get very vague. If you apply for a job, make sure you are available to start it.

5. Make sure you are available to speak to the potential employer or law firm.

It is no good applying for a locum role and then when the law firm want to speak to you urgently to discuss it, you are not available for five days. There is absolutely no point you applying for there roles in these circumstances, and you may as well have not bothered. The clue is in the word ‘urgent’, and if a locum role comes in, then you need to ensure that you are available to speak to the potential client.



MD and Founder of the Ten-Percent Group, which includes the Legal Recruitment Website, the Ten Percent Financial Recruitment Website (, and Interim Lawyers ( and Also author and editor of the Legal Recruitment News - - a monthly newsletter for law firms, employers and candidates, plus the award-winning blog -

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