Contracting is a profession that is shrouded in perception and misconception. There are those who think they understand it, those that are pretty sure they’ve cracked it, and those that are totally unaware of it. We are going to lift the lid on the freelance/contractor profession, through the eyes of The Secret Contractor. Every month we will publish the latest message from our secret insider.
But who is the secret contractor? That’s one secret we’ll never tell…
I have been freelancing/contracting for about 10 years. I seem to recall first getting called for Jury service about 8 years ago so I would only have been in my first couple of years as a self-employed person. I remember the day well as it filled me with dread. How would I tell my clients? Would I lose work? How would I survive. What would happen if I got a “big” case that went on for months?
After the initial concerns I then put matters into perspective. I was fortunate that most of my clients were big companies and were used to their employees having to serve on Jury duty. I soon discovered that it wasn’t such a big deal other than for my own personal finance situation. I seem to recall that the Jury system will pay you a basic retainer plus expenses and if you have a much higher salary you have to put in a claim. However as a contractor with wild swings in salary, this is not easy.
The first thing I did is to defer. This option is available to anyone and “work commitments” is a valid excuse. What this means however is that the second calling will be coming later but at least you have time to plan for it. My advice to any contractor is to defer. You can then plan for the gap in earnings just as you would plan for a holiday i.e. put money aside to cover your bills/expenses. Any self respecting contractor should be doing this anyway to cover periods of sickness.
One thing to note is that Jury service is not a 9 to 5 job. Sometimes you turn up and get sent home as you are not needed. Sometimes there is a lot of hanging about but armed with a laptop/tablet and a wifi connection there is no reason why you cannot work remotely and in some cases your clients may not even need to know you are not in full time work. This of course assumes you have some communication or literary duties as part of your business. A site based manual contractor would have a greater degree of difficulty with this, but maybe they could advise their clients that they might be able to turn up ad-hoc depending upon their Jury commitments each day.
I always advocate that any contractor who is aiming to make serious money, has more than one client. This helps at times like this because if you are not working full time for any single client, then you don’t have to be visible every working day. So the best way of dealing with unforeseen circumstances such as Jury Service, is to set yourself up correctly in the first place so you clients are not 100% dependable on you being visible 24/7. I accept this comes with experience and for anyone who gets a call for Jury Service just as they are starting out on a new career, then it is just sheer bad luck.
In terms of trying to get out of Jury Duty permanently I would not advocate this. I firmly believe that the justice system is best served by freethinking, educated individuals and freelancers and contractors certainly fit this bill. The Jury system would certainly be worse off if we could not serve on it and I also think that it gives anyone a wider outlook on life and adds to our experiences. The lull periods as you are hanging around waiting to be called can also be put to good networking use. I also found it good fun.