Solicitors’ profession keeps growing like Topsy — up 18% over five years

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But with training contracts gradually evaporating and government reforms of legal aid system kicking in, could the party be over?


Death, taxes and an ever-increasing solicitors’ profession seem to be three certainties in life.

The biggest legal profession regulator reiterated the last of those realities recently by producing figures that showed that as of last month there were a staggering 133,364 solicitors practising in England and Wales — a more than 2% rise on the previous 12 months.

That means there is one solicitor for every 420 people in the jurisdiction, which is a lower ratio than the number of police per head; that’s only one rozzer to every 448. So if you are being mugged, there’s a better chance of a solicitor rushing to assist than a bobby. Comforting?

Number of practising solicitors from July 2009


All this number crunching comes courtesy of figures from the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the body that imposes a tax on the profession to keep it on the straight and narrow.

The regulators’ figures show that apart from several hiccups over the last five years, the solicitors’ profession has grown by more than 18%.

At the pit of the global financial crisis in December 2009, there were 112,589 practising certificate holders. But despite that cataclysmic economic storm, which hit City and high street practice alike, the profession has more than recovered.

So despite major economic shocks, solicitors just keep multiplying. Although more recently the number of training contracts has been decreasing, perhaps suggesting that while the party might not be exactly over, the cans of cheap supermarket lager in the fridge could be running low and there’s a pissed bloke collapsed on the sofa.

Government policy could also rein in growth. As one anonymous commentator pointed out in relation to the figures on the Law Gazette website:

Er, hate to rain on parades etc. but I suspect the LAA [Legal Aid Agency] crime tender might affect the numbers somewhat.

Indeed, it is widely expected that if the Ministry of Justice gets its way and imposes a two-tier legal aid contract, whole swathes of the criminal law fraternity will be rushing for the door marked “early retirement” as that side of the law firm market contracts.

Indeed, bean counters at the Law Gazette — which is published by the Law Society — must have mixed feelings about increasing numbers. A gift from the society to all newly qualified solicitors is a free subscription to the paper version of the newspaper, meaning that despite the digital age, print costs at the venerable title just keep going north.

Would anyone blame the Gazette’s publisher/commercial director for quietly cheering on the MoJ’s reforms?