Contrary to the often bleak picture painted of dwindling numbers entering a legal profession in crisis the number of practising solicitors in England and Wales has hit record levels according to official statistics published yesterday (14 November), as a significant number of law firms and individual practitioners have closed only to be replaced by new openings.
Figures published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) show that the number of practising solicitors in England and Wales stood at a record 130,643 at the end of October.
The new figures constitute a 9.5% increase on the number of practising lawyers (those holding practising certificates) in 2009, when the headcount stood at 119,305.
The total number of solicitors on the roll at the end of October, including registered European lawyers, registered foreign lawyers, and exempt European lawyers, was 162,367.
But even as these numbers defy the recent perception of a dwindling profession, for the first time the SRA has provided a breakdown of recent firm closures, which clearly illustrates the extent to which sole practitioners and high street firms are struggling to adjust to increased competition and changes to legislation. Over the 12 months ending in July of this year, a mix of 941 recognised sole practitioners, recognised bodies and Alternative Business Structures have closed.
Reasons for closure include ceased practising (39%), mergers (23.4%), and change of status (32.1%).
Yet, in the clearest evidence so far that the profession is not so much in decline as changing shape, the number of new firms to have opened since September last year is 903.
These statistics are set against the backdrop of over 100 small UK law firms currently under threat of closure for failing to obtain professional indemnity insurance (PII), such as London litigation boutique Harris Cartier, which entered administration in October.
Other recent examples of firms going into administration include Manches prior to its acquisition by Penningtons last month, with the latest to fold being South West law firm Follett Stock due to insolvency when it couldn’t pay its tax bill, as announced on 6 November.