by David Freeman
Borrowing a phrase from Gilbert & Sullivan “the sole practitioner’s lot is not a happy one.” Which sole practitioner has not felt frustrated from time to time with the difficulties of getting away on holiday or spending quality time with family?
A locum lawyer may provide a solution. A locum lawyer is a substitute who will fully run a practice by handling files, meeting with clients, attending chambers where necessary; signing trust and general cheques with one of the lawyer’s own staff, billing files and signing accounts so that income continues in the client lawyer’s absence. Also, locums provide work-overload coverage working side by side with a lawyer.
Why Be a Locum
One of the great advantages of locum work is the possibility of working when one chooses. Coupled with that is the opportunity of exploring this beautiful province while working away from home – you do have to be prepared to work wherever the demand calls.
A locum must be able to work with a wide variety of people, broad areas of general practice and in very different communities. Locums must be computer literate: able to work on different word processing systems, programmes and telephone systems especially if the client-lawyer does not have full support staff.
What to Expect
On your first day at a new office, expect a varying reception from support staff; some are very relieved to be absolved of the responsibility for problems in the absence of their boss, while others are initially reticent. I find that the best way to break the ice is to sit down with the support staff, enjoy a cup of coffee, answer any queries and quickly learn that office’s routine.
Locums do not have the luxury of time to settle into a new office, they have to be fully operative from the word ‘go.’ When the phone rings with a client who has to put in an offer by 12:00 noon, locums have to be able to deal effectively and immediately with that file.
Locums can be away from home for anything from a week or two to a month or longer, either house-sitting (which is the more common) or in a motel. If you are house-sitting, which can include tending plants and pets, you have to hope that everything goes according to plan. On one occasion a client lawyer, in his last-minute rush to catch a plane had omitted to inform his neighbours that there would be someone staying in his home in his absence. That night I answered the door to find RCMP requiring my identity. Fortunately, I had provided for that situation with a signed letter from the client lawyer before he left.
Detailed checklists are needed to ensure sufficient clothes for the period including appropriate wear for court, bedding, linens and food; a locum lawyer should be completely self-sufficient.
The Professional Locum
Locums should be prepared to provide an information package and detailed confirmations to ensure that both locum and client lawyer fully understand their commitment. Locums need to carefully plan their calendars and itineraries to take into account engagements in various locations of the province.
The Locum Lifestyle is Not for Everyone
A locum really has to be a ‘hands on’ type of person – willing to live out of a suitcase for weeks at a time, and...a locum needs an understanding spouse/partner.
David Freeman is a full-time locum lawyer providing on-site service throughout BC and Alberta. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
This article was published in the October 2002 issue of BarTalk. © 2002 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.