Senior part-time lawyer anyone?

Author James Brewster
October 12, 2019

For as long as I can remember there has always been a dearth of available lawyers at 2-4 PQE.  Firms often cut back on trainee numbers or increase them in response to economic ebb and flow, but no matter what, there is always a shortage of mid-level lawyers across most disciplines of law.  In house legal teams looking to recruit a solid commercial contracts lawyer with 2-4 PQE often struggle despite the desire to move in-house being quite strong among associate-level commercial lawyers in private practice.

Legal teams are now quite adept in offering agile working to lawyers who need extra flexibility rather than lose them, the realisation that it’s very hard to replace people is a key reason.  So it’s far better to keep them in some capacity rather than lose them completely.  What employers aren’t so good at – yet – is offering mid-level roles to more senior lawyers but on a part-time basis.  The assumption is senior lawyers are more expensive and often perceived as not quite as ‘mouldable’ as a junior lawyer.  But I think employers are missing a trick.  Those mid-level vacancies that remain vacant for so long remain vacant because there simply isn’t the candidate pool so why not hire a more senior lawyer and employ them on a part-time basis, saving time and potentially money.  There are more senior lawyers available on the legal jobs market so you could recruit quicker.  The salary cost of employing someone full time could be the same as offering a higher salary but pro-rated rata’d down to accommodate part-time hours.

Also, senior lawyers have often amassed plenty of war wounds and so offer excellent commercial acumen having ‘been there and done it’ many times. Technically they should be at the top of their game and so no supervision should be needed. They’ve often dealt with every level of person within an organisation so won’t be fazed by certain situations.  Plus, and I think this is a big one for employers because experienced people have been around the block a few times (talking from experience) they are happy to admit when they’ve got it wrong – their ego has often been left at the door many years ago! So they not only generally present as very affable, amiable individuals who are a joy to have in the team but they are also a legitimate cost-effective option.

So why does it not happen all the time?  Unfortunately, I think there is a stigma attached to the senior lawyer who will accept a more junior job i.e there must be something wrong with them.  I also think there is a traditional element to this too in that due to succession planning, legal teams like to see the junior lawyers coming up through the ranks and eventually taking the reigns.  There is also a perception that a senior lawyer will get bored handling work that is beneath their PQE.

Senior lawyers looking for a better work-life balance will often accept that complexity of work is not always the number one priority and they will do a full-time job in part-time hours in order to have greater work/life balance or see their kids more often.  But as long as employer and employee are clear on prioritising the right work and being clear about what can be achieved in three or four days, then it can be done. Write something here…

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