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Temping Positions in Today's Job Market

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According to the 2004-05 Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), legal professionals can be adversely affected by cyclical swings in the economy and the business cycle. Temporary contract positions often provide an economical solution. Firms get the benefit of added help without having to make long-term staffing commitments, and workers who otherwise might go unemployed gain flexible work arrangements and the possibility that the short-term arrangement might turn into permanent positions.

Susan Maginnis, a certified staffing professional (CSP) at Pat Taylor & Associates in Washington, DC, stated that "there are a variety of reasons law firms use temps. It depends upon the work they are doing for a client and the number of people they need.

"For instance, they may need 40 people to review documents in a short period of time and therefore do not have the time nor inclination to hire permanent employees. Another reason is cost effectiveness."

The BLS reported that beginning in the 1980s, work arrangements began to shift from primarily full-time wage and salary work to include more temporary work. Temporary work arrangements that outsource employees have grown. Labor economists agree that the practice is a permanent and growing feature of the new economy.

Demand for temporary workers has helped fuel the increase in temporary agencies across the U.S., including ones that specialize in legal positions.

Other motivations a legal organization might have for hiring temporary workers are: requiring individuals with specialized skills, desire to not add more permanent employees, special projects with specific time lengths, or an immediate need to fill a position.

Janice James, a Certified Staffing Professional who also works at Pat Taylor & Associates, stated, "Litigation in particular is a driving force behind hiring temporary workers. This is the biggest area of law that consistently utilizes temporary employees."

There are many advantages associated with temporary work from the employee perspective.

Paul Masterson, Director of West Coast Operations of Update Legal, a full-service placement firm for the legal industry, stated that the benefits include "flexibility, variety, good hourly pay, quality of life, and control."

Mrs. James added, "It allows people to stay in their field while they look for something permanent and provides valuable opportunities to network."

Salaries for temporary legal staff positions range from $20/hr to $35/hr. A permanent position, in contrast, can range from $15/hr to $51/hr, depending on the position.

The negative stigma previously attached to temping has disappeared, experts say. "Future employers are now viewing temporary work in a positive light," Mr. Masterson said. "Employers are looking at temporary work as a training ground; they are now looking at the substantive nature of the work and giving employees credit for it."

Mrs. Maginnis added that temping has some career advantages for workers. "It is a nice way for entry levels to see what law firms are like; the culture differs quite a bit between firms," she noted. "Temping is a way for entry levels to also see what area of law suits them best."

After deciding to pursue temporary work, an employee must select a temporary agency or firm and then typically pass a screening process. Pat Taylor & Associates has specific procedures for selecting temporary candidates.

Mrs. Maginnis stated, "We interview candidates, check references and education, and have them fill out different forms, for example, a confidentiality form. We introduce candidates to others in the office so that everyone can get a better sense of the person; that way we are able to market the individual to the client better."

Other staffing companies require testing and conflict and background checks.

Assignment lengths for contract jobs can vary from one day to even two years, according to Mrs. James.

Experts say clients are demanding in the qualifications they want, even for temporary workers. "Clients are getting more sophisticated in the types of candidates they are looking for, particularly in terms of skill sets," Mrs. Maginnis said. "For litigation, they like candidates who have a background in database programs like Summation, Concordance, and Access. There are higher requests for these individuals."

Experts agree that a professional demeanor, college degree or certification, appropriate work experience, high levels of flexibility, adaptability, and proactivity are all qualities of a good temporary worker.

Mr. Masterson advised that individuals seeking temporary work should determine their objectives. "Are they looking for something that will lead into a permanent position or contract work that offers flexibility?"

Mrs. James said that "there are temporary workers who enjoy the convenience of making their own schedule so that they may pursue other avenues, but most hope for an assignment that leads to something permanent." Experts agree that seeking temporary work is an excellent avenue for landing a permanent job.

Whatever the desired outcome, communication is of the utmost importance if a temporary arrangement is to be successful for all involved: staffing firm, employer, and employee. Mr. Masterson stated, "The relationship between the staffing firm, employer, and employee must be cooperative one; all sides must contribute a certain degree of effort."

Mrs. James added, "The future of temping looks excellent…it has reached a point where it is standard for many law firms to use temps. Across the board at various professional levels, temping will continue to flourish."

Pat Taylor and Associates, Inc.


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