in Careers Advice, Employers, Legal Profession

Etiquette for Locums

Etiquette Guide for Locums

Occasionally we get queries from law firms and locums as to what constitutes good practice by a locum when on assignment. Here are our answers to recent queries:

Should locums take phone calls during the day from their own clients?

No definitely not. Why would they? They are paid by the hour to do work for a company.

Should locums deal with emails from their own clients?

Again no, definitely not. Again the locum is billing a client for his/her time spent on the client’s work, not their own.

Should locums receive phone calls from their agents?

No. Some agents, particularly good ones like us (!) will never call our locums during the working day, unless it is an emergency, which it never is.

Should locums be telling other law firms and third parties about their services?

No definitely not. We heard of a locum some years ago who added a note to all his emails “PS: I am available to hire at very reasonable rates.” Some locums go out of their way not to reveal the fact they are a locum at all, so that a firm’s clients do not realise their regular lawyer is on annual or sick leave.

How should a locum bill for their hours?

By agreeing the hours at the end of each week with a partner or authorised person at the firm. The locum should never estimate the hours worked or bill for hours not yet actually worked.

The senior partner offers to take the locum out for lunch. How does the billing work? Should a locum bill for a lunch break?

It would be seriously bad etiquette if the locum billed the firm for the time at lunch! It has happened.. The partner was not impressed. Locums should not bill for their lunch break, unless of course they have been working throughout dealing with urgent cases and remained at their desk for the duration.

Can locums be off sick?

No. Locums are self-employed. The self-employed are never sick. Ask anyone! Unless you are genuinely ill and in danger of infecting the rest of the office with a heavy cold, you should go into work. We have found over the years that professional locums understand the requirement not to be ill or take time off, but newer locums can still behave like employees from time to time.

The office opens at 9am – what time should a locum get there for?

9am, unless otherwise agreed in advance. We know of locums who have turned up at 11am or even 1pm without informing anyone of their intentions. It never goes down well with clients..

Can locums take annual leave?

This is a fairly contentious issue, but one easily dealt with for any locum arrangement we organise – all of our locums are self-employed and we do not employ any. As a result there are no employment rights accruing to the locum and as such there is no annual leave. There is nothing to stop a locum informing a client that they are going to be away from the office for 5 days and giving the dates, but similarly there is nothing to stop a client telling the locum that they are ending the assignment.

How much notice should I give a locum to end an assignment?

As much as you feel is fair in the circumstances. If the locum has staggered into work 3 hours late stinking of beer, fallen asleep on their desk and missed two court hearings, then the answer is that instant termination is quite reasonable! However if a locum has been with you for 9 months it would be more reasonable to give them a week’s notice at the very least.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at