The Law Society today (27 April 2015) published its Annual Statistics Report 2014, showing that while the number of solicitors rose, returning to growth in 2014 after dipping in 2013, and those graduating with a law degree reached record highs, the number of training contracts continued to fall.
Overall the society found that the number of solicitors in England and Wales holding a practising certificate (PC) rose 2.1% from 127,676 in July 2013 to 130,382 in 2014 though those lawyers were housed in a dwindling number of private practice firms with the number of domestic law firms registered falling from 9,807 to 9,542. There were also 967 foreign law practices and 180 locum services.
Outside of private practice, in-house continued to expand its position in the profession with the total proportion of solicitors who work in-house increasing 0.6% to 21.1%.
Turning to those entering the profession, there were 5,001 training contracts registered in the year up to 31 July 2014, down some 6% compared with the previous year, with large firms (81+ partners) continued to make up a greater proportion of those training places being offered. However, while positions for graduates fell those actually graduating with a degree in the subject rose to a record 16,120.
On the diversity front there was a nearly 2,000 increase in the number of female solicitors, which now stands at 62,844 but the number of female partners actually fell across the profession from 8,115 to 7,985. There was much higher participation for women in younger age groups and experience levels with 60% of lawyers holding PC under the age of 35 being female though that ratio was flipped around for those over 35.
The disparity also showed up in the breakdown of solicitors by years since admission. Female participation drops off quickly with most female lawyers (53.5%) holding between 0-9 years experience with a further 28.7% hold between 10-19. However, for men there is a more equitable distribution between experience levels with 32.1% holding up to nine years, 26.8% between 10 and 19 while 19% and 16.4% have between 20-29 and 30-39 years respectively.
The total number of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) continued a steady increase to 15.6% of solicitors with PCs whose ethnicity is known. In terms of BAME most regions solicitors are representative of their populations – except for London where, though it has the highest percentage of BAME Solicitors at 18%, it is still far from the being representative of the general population level which stands around 40%.
The report did demonstrate the concentration of lawyers in the Square Mile with the City of London hosting 73% of firms with more than 81 partners as well as a quarter of those with 26-80. The North West was also highlighted as a legal hub with 13.3% of England & Wales’ law firms based there compared to 12.5% of the population.