Job Search Strategies: permanent v. temporary

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

Payrolls for November increased by 39,000 jobs while 40,000 temporary jobs were created in that period. Like everyone else, I was surprised at the number in the Dec. 3 jobs report. Employers are planning to add more temporary jobs in the upcoming months, and they are planning to keep them temporary.

Labor is part of the income/expense calculation for businesses and directly affects the profitability of a business. Salary expenses can be one of the larger numbers in the income statement. That number is important to the bottom line and ultimately affects the way a business is valued in the financial markets.

During economically difficult times, businesses look for any expenses to cut back to improve their financial condition. Using temporary employees allows businesses, law firms included, to more closely match their expenses to their income.

From the employees’ point of view, there used to be a significant difference between being a permanent employee or a temporary worker. That is not true any more.

The advantages of being a permanent employee are fewer and the disadvantages of being a temp are now less.

When you become a lawyer, you are a temporary worker. You contract with clients to do a specific legal task – set up their business, defend a charge or safeguard their financial assets. Some law practices involve an ongoing relationship with a client, but many are based on a limited engagement, after which the lawyer goes on to represent another client. If you have a steady stream of clients, it becomes a permanent position, working for yourself. If your client stream slows down or ceases altogether, you are out of work.

Lawyers who worked for large law firms with a steady stream of clients always had a permanent position, but as the economy slowed down they became subject to dismissal as well. So today, the line between temporary and permanent is blurred. But as long as temporary jobs are available, being a temp has advantages.

As a permanent worker, some of your financial needs were met by your employer. Employers used to offer free health care in their health plans, for example (I know, hard to believe). Now, even in a group plan, because health care is so costly, your employer’s contribution can be minimal or non-existent, not much help to you.

Here are some other thoughts about how being temporary is good:

Remember office politics? When you are in a law office a limited time, then you move on, you are not part of the politics. Whatever is negative in a temporary situation, ends when the assignment ends.

Worrying about your work, losing sleep over cases, drafting motions at 2 a.m., no more of that. Your work as a temp stays at work.

Need time off? You don’t have to work 50 weeks to get your two precious weeks off. True, you do have to manage your money to be able to take off and not get paid.

No perks? Perks for most permanent people are now few and far between anyway.

True, there are emotional and social issues that you have to deal with as a temp. If you are a highly social person, you’ll miss the camaraderie of working with a permanent group, but how permanent are the permanent groups now anyway?

Job satisfaction also takes a hit. The work you do as a temp does not usually have the substantive content that permanent jobs do. But that is changing as well. From temps primarily performing document review, firms are moving to having attorneys take over some research and writing functions, for example, that are being left undone as the permanent employees are laid off and not replaced. Times change and it is good to change with them.


2 responses to “Job Search Strategies: permanent v. temporary

  1. It’s refreshing to hear that attorneys and certified legal nurse consultants all start out the same. You never know in the beginning where your next paycheck will come from (that’s if it will even come). I guess we are all in this together, which is why networking and word of mouth are so precious!

  2. To supplement the point made, the fact is that firms and corporate law departments are using more temporary and contract lawyers than ever before, and that trend will continue. As a business advisor to law firms and law departments, I encourage my clients to use contract help, because it gives them financial flexibility.
    Audrey Rubin, President, Rubin Solutions, Ltd.

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