Is Temporary The New Permanent?

All those many years ago, whilst at law school, I had the halcyon image in my mind that had been consistently placed there by too many episodes of LA Law, Boston Legal and, yes, even Ally McBeal, sadly. This image included a busy, yet manageable, training contract at a City firm, earning big wedge. I would then move up into an associate position, where I would be prepared to “work hard, play harder” (!) and get paid handsomely for it. After only a few years of this, partnership (and a life on the golf course) would beckon and I would be all set and sorted. Summers spent golfing in Portugal, winters on the slopes of Val d’Isere, all before I was 40 – this life of a lawyer sounded pretty good.

I think, I *think*, something went a little awry along the way. My training contract did come to fruition, although not quite how I planned it. This associate position also proved rather elusive, too. Plus, I haven’t had a permanent job since 2009. And you know what – I couldn’t be happier about that.

This post was inspired by an article I read a while ago on http://www.recruiter.com. It is a good article by a chap called the prolific writer Kazim Ladimeji a small business HR and careers consultant in the UK. I will take a rather different approach in my analysis of the temporary vs permanent trend, by merely mulling over my own personal experience and thoughts between the two in the hope that you find it interesting!

Permanent jobs are over-rated. 25 days’ holiday (criminally less in the US), no overtime and the mere possibility of a bonus if the wind has been blowing in the right direction all year mean that this is a not-so-very attractive option for me at the moment.

Additionally, “permanent” is a misnomer, as you probably all know. The days of working in one job for your life are far from reality nowadays. With so much competition in any market place, the human desire for change and the continuing lethargy in the economy, permanency no longer exists. Firms need to make cuts, for a variety of reasons, and those cuts can be brutal. How you – either as a ‘permanent’ employee or a temporary worker – deal with those cuts, should you be directly affected, depends on your viewpoint and on your mindset, which can both make an enormous difference if the blade comes chopping.

How can your mindset help you if you find yourself no longer in employment? Consider the difference between a permanent employee of a law firm and the contract attorney in the same firm. Only the former considers that his or her job is ‘secure’ and, thus, likely makes no plans for the immediate future in terms of job alternatives. The contract attorney, however, is happy with every day that his or her contract continues. He always has one eye on the market to see if there are any other contracts out there to which he could jump if his current project comes to an end or starts to slow down. So long as he has adapted so as to not feel the ‘stress’ that can be induced with temporary contract work, then his mindset is perfectly adapted to deal with impending unemployment should his project come to an end on short notice. He can then easily call around a few recruitment agents and (hopefully) find himself on another temporary project before the week is over. Contrast this with how a permanent employee might deal with a redundancy or being fired. In all likelihood, his world will feel like it has caved in, he may feel embarrassed and ashamed and will spend a good amount of time in shock.

As temporary workers, we’re used to the uncertainty and we use it to our advantage. We have long since determined that no contract (job) is ideal, and so we relish the short-term nature of the projects to which we are assigned. We are thankful for the variety this offers us. Sure, some projects pay less (much less in certain circumstances) than we would like, but over recent years there has always been one around the corner that allows us to put some heavy hours in for a month, and be back on track financially. The world of temporary has relieved us of the mundanity of permanent work and we are thankful for it.

It took me a while to change my mindset (probably about 2 years!) and now I am happy as Larry in my decision to remain in the temporary world. Incidentally, the decision was thrust upon me by the poor job market, but now I actively choose to remain in the temporary market for the time being. I find myself much less stressed with my daily workload. The flexibility that allows me to jump from one project to another is something I am thankful for (be careful with this, though: don’t ‘jump ship’ early from projects too often, otherwise you’ll get a name for yourself), which in turn further drops the stress levels.

Are you in temporary work? What do you think are the benefits it has afforded you as compared with a permanent job? We’d love to hear your thoughts so let us know by leaving a comment below!

You can connect with me directly via my LinkedIn profile or just drop me a line at trevor@contractattorneycentral.com.

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18 thoughts on “Is Temporary The New Permanent?

  1. I agree. I “fell” into this type of work also, after a layoff from a plush corporate job, which I was never able to recoup. Yet now, I have the luxury of having time to pursue my own personal interests, to include travel. (What can one do in this regard with 2-3 weeks off a year? I now take the entire summers off!) Also, I can become involved in matters relating to my prior area of expertise and real interests in a manner that is meaningul and fulfilling to me, without the restrictions of a corporate politics. Life could be worse!

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  2. Temporary lacks the benefits of perm though – such as health insurance and retirement benefits. Is that important at all there? Just curious. Maybe not because there is a better health care system, but in America it’s definitely crucial. Flexibility and freedom is most certainly wonderful; however, here, health insurance and retirement secures our future and sometimes doesn’t allow us the option to choose temporary over perm unless there is a partner carrying the benefits for you. Most certainly would enjoy traveling at whim and summers off, but unfortunately it’s not an option for most Americans.

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    • Hi Sienna, I agree that a temporary role is not going to provide you those benefits, it’s just that I see this as a cost of ‘doing business’ in a way that allows you to remain more flexible. The solution is to find yourself private health insurance, which you then factor into your monthly budget. It doesn’t have to be very expensive but for places without the benefit of something like the NHS, it is vital. It’s not necessary to do this in the UK, thanks to the National Health Service (NHS), but many people do anyway, in the belief that the NHS is ‘flawed’ and it is ‘better’ to fund a private medical insurance instead. My experience of the NHS has been excellent (hey, it even made it into the Olympic opening ceremony!), so I don’t see that as a requirement.
      As for the retirement benefits of a permanent role – I do see that as being more important than health insurance in the UK, and it’s certainly a large consideration, should one ever find oneself in the fortunate hypothetical situation of being able to choose between two employment offers – one temporary and one permanent. With employer’s contributions matching the employee’s own contributions to their retirement pot up to, what, usually 8% ish (?) then this mounts up enormously over the years and is most definitely something that would make the difference between a champagne and a bovril retirement. Again, though, if the flexibility and reduction in work stresses is important enough to you, then I would regularly recommend staying in temporary employment, trying to find a great paying role (I know, I know, easier said than done, especially recently) and then regularly putting a good amount into the grey pot.

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  3. I have to agree with Sienna on this one. I have been in and out of the doc review world in the United States for several years now – using doc review to fund my other interests of taking classes, travelling, spending time with family, etc. Yes, the flexibilty is great, and doc reviews pays enough to fund my adventures. However, I have never thought doc review would be something I would do for more than a few years. This is in large part because of the structure of the American system. Funding my own health insurance and retirement is simply too expensive. I am enjoying my life now, but I also look forward to the day when I settle into a more stable position that will provide me with health insurance, a steady paycheck, and the opportunity to build long term professional relationships. I don’t necessarily think that this job will be “permanent” in the sense that I never change jobs or careers again in my life. However, the years I plan to spend at my next “permanent” job will be a much longer stint than the few months or weeks I spend on doc reviews. Everyone needs to make their own call about what is most important to them while considering the benefits their country provides). However, in the American system, doing doc review forever has just never seemed like a viable option to me.

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  4. Good points. Everyone has different situations and therefore, the advantages and disadvantages are indeed circumstantial. I worked for quite a few years previously and always saved like an ant (vs bouncing around like the grasshopper), so I am able to do it now with private health insurance and carefully managing my retirement savings from times past. But I recognize that the landscape has changed and some of the options that I had, may not be viable in today’s market. But the important thing I think is that at least there are alternatives and one must manage those in a way that optimizes one’s personal situation presently as well as for the future. I certainly did not think that I had any options when I was laid off from my corporate position and could not find a comparable position; it was the end of the world to me…

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  5. Like anything in life there are positives and negatives to this. The positives are you have much more flexibility then you do in a permeant or contracted situation with set hours or schedule. You don’t have the benefits you would with a more traditional job but many of those type of benefit are diminishing. I’m fortunate that I have a husband who has benefits and that is not an issue for me at this time

    As for me? I opt for the flexibility and will deal with the other part in another way when I need.

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  6. I can see why you like the temporary contracts. Since you are a lawyer, you may be enjoying the freedom coming with it. But, for an average person, or a a factory worker, the temp jobs will not provide any benefits. Will the banks give a mortgage for them to buy a house? With temping comes the lesser wages too. Altogether, if you belong to the lower middle class or lower, then you would love to have a permanent job.

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    • You raise a very good point here Bindhurani. There are cetrainly industries where temp work as we described it in our post is not an option or a choice with very little benefits. We would however disagree with the general point that temps earn less than permanent staff. At least in the legal industry, contract attorneys – depending on the setup project they work on – can outearn their associate equivalents working on the same matter. Even as contract attorneys who are commonly accepted as temp professionals in our industry it is more difficult to secure a mortgage for example. Banks certainly ask for much more documentation and securities. Then again they just treat temps pretty much like self employed applicants.

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  7. From what I’ve seen of contract attorneys they are just permanent temps, also coming in every day doing their 9 to 5, but treated non-equal compared to permanents (think of Christmas parties, etc.!).

    I wonder if they can plan way ahead in life (e.g. book a major holiday six months ore more ahead of time, have a family, etc.) or is this just a security question, coming from the mind of a permanent employee?

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    • You make an all to common point here ldngirl when you refer to the non-equal treatment of contract attorneys compared to the firm’s ‘real’ lawyers. At a firm I worked at HR made a point to refer to the contract attorneys as ‘paralegals’ constantly to make a point that they did not consider us as lawyers. At another firm again HR (from which you would expect better) introduced new starters – associates or support staff, visiting lawyers or even interns to everybody but the contract attorneys (who were sitting in the same room). It was not only rude and unprofessional but also – as you can imagine – put everybody into an uncomfortable position.

      Then again – to cover your question – way to handle is, keep smiling, act professional and take the long break, HR people would like to be able to but won’t as they are limited to their annual leave. :-)

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  8. I’ve been in what many people can consider as a temporary job for the past seven years (I work as a freelance writer). It’s got it’s pros and cons. Initially, it might seem that the cons may outweigh the pros: you don’t have paid vacation, no medical insurance, no retirement fund, etc. But after 7 years, I’ve been able to pay for my own medical and life insurance. I’ve also been able to prepare for the future. But the most important thing for me is that since I’ve been in this kind of job, I’ve been able to spend more time with my family. That time, for me, is priceless.

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    • Hi Adeline, thank you for stopping by. You make a very good point when you say that it’s proceless for you to be able to spend more time with your family. Just the other day I had a chat with a senior lawyer at the firm I am temping right now who told me that she got married last March but because of the workload has only been able to have dinner with her husband around 5 times. She feels like being held in a golden cage. Working temporary/freelance however certainly enables one to be more flexible i.e. spend some daytime with the children and work at night or work on weekends and spend some quality time with the partner during the week. It’s great to hear that you ‘made it’ in your freelance writer field and it’s hopefully inspiring other readers to follow this path.

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  9. Pingback: Is Document Review Good Or Bad? PART ONE: The Pros Of Being A Permanent Temp | CONTRACT ATTORNEY CENTRAL

  10. My line of work is temporary by nature – I’m an Independent Entertainment Professional. I’ve only had one professional work experience that put me in one location (at that point, an office job) for more than 6 months. Let’s just say, I realized that type of work situation was not right for me. Temporary is a way of life for me, and a way of working that I enjoy. I enjoy the challenge, the “new,” and most of all seeing something that I’ve never seen before.

    Coming to terms with uncertainty at a personal level is not easy, by any means. For those making the adjustment, it can be a shock to the system! I find that new mind-sets require new thoughts, one where uncertainty is not a perceived as a negative. Many great books are available on this topic, as are quotes – usually in the Self-help sections, etc. Because truly, absolutely nothing is permanent in this Universe. The sooner one comes to terms with that, the easier everything is, including employment.

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    • Thank you so much for your comment Natasha – it’s great to get a refreshing new perspective from somebody who is ‘truly temporary’ – too many of us are stuck in the office job and scared of the perspective of the uncertainty. Love your point that new mind-sets require new thoughts and that uncertainty should not be perceived as a negative and suggestion to check-out self help books. Changes to the current status are good. I actually just read Who Moved My Cheese, An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson – which is simple, yet very much to the point and a must-read for everybody who is stuck in the now and afraid of changes and what future would bring. Here’s a link to the book: Who Moved My Cheese

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  11. Pingback: 15 Things You Should Give Up In Order To Be A Happy Contract Attorney – PART ONE! | CONTRACT ATTORNEY CENTRAL

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