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If the firm classes you as employee due to the level of involvement you have with the files then they would be obliged to list you on the list of professionals to be indemnified by the PII. If you are declared in that way then there shouldn't be any come back to you. However as self em0ployed assistant if you are not going to work for just one firm you want to actually take out your own cover should the cover provided by the firms not be sufficient to cover for example cyber attacks.
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When a locum attends and assists on files the locum does not have personal liability on the files. If they have no control over what work you pick, when you pick the work and do not provide you with resources to complete your support services then you cannot be an employee.
Locum would be covered. With what you have described that seems to say you don't have control over what work you do or when you do it or what resource to use so you would fit the employee description.
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Be employed by your client and they have a commercial terms of engagement with the firm.
You should not overthink it though. IF you are a student member of the law society you should call the SRA on***********during the morning and ask them that you have an issue that you wish to clarify on ethics and conduct and they will advise you in confidence.