History as women become majority of solicitors – but still lag badly at partner level

Egan: Profession must reward talent equally

Women have become the majority of practising solicitors for the first time, but men are still twice as likely to be partners, according to new figures.

They also highlighted the non-stop growth of the profession, which has increased by 31,000 solicitors, or 29%, over the past decade – although this was a slower rate than the previous two decades.

The Law Society’s annual statistical report – profiling the profession as at 31 July 2017 – showed that there were a total of 139,624 solicitors with a practising certificate (PC) on that date, of which 69,995 were women and 69,629 men.

Law Society calculations show that if current rates of growth are maintained, by 2022 there will be approximately 10,000 more female practising solicitors than men, reversing a 10,000 deficit recorded in only 2010.

The statistics show how the trend will only continue as a record high of 64% new trainees last year were women. More than twice as many women than men are starting law degrees as well.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the women were at the more junior end of the profession – 60% of all solicitors up to nine years’ post-qualification were women – with men in the majority in all age groups from 46-50 and older.

There were still more men than women in private practice, as a significantly larger share of women PC holders worked in-house (25.9%) compared with men (18.5%). The overall figure of practising solicitors working in-house rose to 22%.

The share of practising solicitors from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups has also continued to grow. From 7% in 2000, they made up 16.5% of the profession in 2017.

Women were in the majority of all the different BAME groups, most notably African-Caribbean, where 72% of practising solicitors were female.

The figures also revealed the decreasing popularity of the partnership structure, which now makes up 45% of firms, compared to 60% five years ago. Of 9,488 private practice law firms, 4,269 were partnerships, 3,725 limited companies and 1,477 limited liability partnerships.

The numbers of alternative business structures (ABSs) increased across all size-bands, although these firms remain larger on average than traditional solicitors – 45% of ABSs earned over £1m, compared to 21% of traditional firms.

Law firms’ turnover for 2015/16 totalled £23.1bn, of which £9.6bn (nearly 42%) was produced by 58 very large firms (defined as 81+ partners). These firms employed 29% of all practising solicitors.

Business-to-business work generated turnover of £13.5bn – half of which was general corporate or commercial work for public and private companies.

Other figures in the report showed how law firm gearing has changed over the past decade, with the ratio of admitted staff to partners increasing by 50%. For example, among firms with two to 10 partners, in 2007 they had 0.87 solicitors per principal; last year, it was 1.46.

However, this appeared to be due to partnerships being slimmed down. Some 30% of solicitors were partners in 2017, compared to 38% in 2007.

Some 41% of men were partners, compared to just 18% of women, a gap in part explained by the age figures.

More than a third (34%) of white solicitors were partners, compared to 23% of those from a BAME background.

Law Society president Joe Egan said the figures showed it was “more important than ever the profession recognises and rewards talent equally”.

He continued: “Every step towards greater equality will benefit businesses, clients and solicitors alike. We are keen to support our members in adopting and shaping best practice so that law firms comply not just with the letter but also with the spirit of the law…

“An important foundation is transparency, and this includes gender pay gap reporting. The Law Society supports the inclusion of partner pay alongside employee pay data in gender pay gap reporting as an important step towards greater equality.

“This will give firms a useful benchmark and enable an evidence-based action plan to tackle inequalities.”

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