One thousand fewer private practice firms than five years ago
One in five practising certificate holders now work in-house, says Law Society report
The number of practising solicitors is on the rise even as the amount of private practice firms falls, new statistics show.
The Law Society's annual statistics report found that, as at 31 July 2015, there were 133,367 solicitors with practising certificates, a 2.3 per cent rise on 2014.
However, the number of private practice firms operating in England and Wales fell to 9,403 in 2015, which is just over 1,000 fewer firms than existed at a peak five years ago.
With the number of private practice firms falling, and the numbers of practising certificate holders rising, the average number of private practice solicitors per firm grew to 9.7.
Representation of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups (BAME) among practising solicitors stood at 15.5 per cent, more than doubling since 2000.
The report shows there were 18,547 practising solicitors from BAME groups in 2015 - up from 17,831 in 2014 and 5,009 in 2000.
The gender gap also continues to close. Just over 51 per cent of practising solicitors are men and almost 49 per cent are women. The proportion of female solicitors has risen from 40.5 per cent a decade ago.
The report also suggests there is cause for optimism at the junior end of the professional, with a 9 per cent rise in the number of trainee registrations in the 12 months to 31 July 2015. The majority of this increase is accounted for by the continued rise in women accepted on courses.
The Law Society's chief executive, Catherine Dixon, commented: 'Diversity is improving, with the proportion of BAME solicitors continuing to grow and more women than men entering the profession.
'However, the gender and ethnicity gap at a more senior level continues. Firms with good diversity, inclusion, and social mobility policies have a competitive advantage.'
Solicitors working in-house were found to make up 21 per cent of practising certificate holders in 2015, up from 15 per cent in 2000. This proportion is expected to grow further over the coming years.
Over 5,000 commerce and industry organisations employed solicitors in 2015, an increase of just over 4 per cent on a year earlier.
The number solicitors working in the City of London have risen by 60 per cent over the past 10 years - double the rate of growth in other areas. More than a fifth of all practising solicitors now work in the City.
'The legal sector contributes £25.7bn to the economy each year, with net exports now at £3.6bn per annum, so the growth in the sector indicated by our research is great news for the UK,' said Dixon.
'The significant increase in the number of commercial organisations employing practising solicitors in the 12 months to 31 July 2015 reflects the central role of general counsel and in-house teams as business advisers who drive innovation and shape organisational risk culture.
'However, we know that in some areas, such as publicly funded legal advice, recruitment is far more challenging,' she added.
'Continued consolidation in the market is evidenced by a rise in the number of solicitors working in private practice alongside a further fall in the number of private practice firms, which now stands at 1,000 fewer than five years ago.'