Number of practising solicitors reaches all-time high

The number of solicitors on the roll reached an all-time high in 2021, while record numbers of students graduated with law degrees, a new Law Society of England and Wales report has revealed.

Resulting from the report was a wide range of statistics all giving the impression of a legal sector which is busier than ever before. Here are some key facts:

  • In the twelve months to 31 July 2021, the number of solicitors with practising certificates (PC holders) reached 153,282, an increase of 2% on the previous year.
  • A record number has also been reported for solicitors on the roll reaching 209,215, an increase of 3% from the year before.
  • The number of women PC holders increased three times faster than the number of men; women now make up 53% of those practising in the profession.
  • Representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds continued to grow, reaching 18% of those with known ethnicity.
  • The proportion of solicitors working in-house grew to 25%, a steady average increase of 1% each year (this is still a likely underestimate as some PC holders are not officially recorded as working in-house).
  • The number of students graduating with first degrees in law from universities in England and Wales in 2021 was the highest on record at 18,927. 81% of these graduates achieved a First or Upper Second degree.
  • The median age for both men and women PC holders grew by one year, making the median ages 46 and 40 respectively as of 2021.
  • The number of firms within England and Wales have been steadily decreasing over the past five years, reaching 9,020 as of 2021.
  • A third of firm head office closures came from mergers and change of legal entity status.

“This report has been compiled for over 30 years and provides a comprehensive picture of how the solicitors’ profession has evolved over the long-run in terms of size and structure,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

Boyce added that the report provides an “authoritative record” of the number of practising solicitors and “the type of organisations in which they work”, adding:

“As an in-house lawyer myself, it is encouraging to see solicitors employed in-house by organisations, ranging from FTSE and private companies to local authorities now make up a quarter of the profession.”

On the demographics of solicitors and the future of the sector, Boyce said:

“It is also encouraging to see the number of women working in the profession and people from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background.

There is, however, more work to be done in increasing representation of those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic, and low socio-economic backgrounds, as well as increasing the number of women in the higher echelons of the profession.

The decline in the number of firms also highlights the need for widespread investment in our justice system including legal aid rates to ensure lawyers are there when needed.”

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