New instructions surge past pre-lockdown levels

Bryan: Very robust sector

Legal activity has bounced back to 130% of pre-Covid levels with conveyancing continuing to rise steadily and several other practice areas also buoyant, new figures have shown.

The all-cases index produced by legal IT company Quill shows that new instructions dipped to around 50% of January averages during April and May but then rebounded to well above that benchmark across most areas of law in July.

The positive signs align with Office of National Statistics figures showing the UK legal industry generated revenues of £2.8bn in June 2020, 19.5% up on the previous month.

Quill said the data should give law firms confidence for their planning and investment over the rest of 2020 and beyond.

It is giving free access to real-time charts depicting instruction volumes by specialism. Called Quilldex, the benchmarking tool uses data about file openings from an anonymised, representative sample of its software users, who in all comprise some 7% of law firms across England, Wales and Scotland.

Quill calculated the average number of daily new matter openings in January and February, and rebased that average at 100 to allow for ongoing comparison.

While daily new cases fell to around a third of normal levels in April, after lockdown was introduced, new conveyancing starts have been steadily increasing and are now running as high as 50% above the benchmark.

The findings chime with Land Registry data showing that applications in June were 64% higher than in April.

Quill also recorded a big rise in the volume of instructions in employment-related cases – spiking at over 300 on some days, as more businesses and employees seek support with employment and redundancy issues.

Lockdown may also have impacted family-related cases, with levels of instructions around divorce, childcare, finance and property issues consistently running ahead of average after dipping to 50% of the benchmark in April.

Daily civil and criminal instructions, meanwhile, hit their highest points of 2020 in July – both hitting 200 and even 300 on occasion on the index in recent weeks – and there has been a steady rise in work for private individuals on matters like wealth management and tax.

The data suggested that the volume of commercial disputes has been much slower to recover, but Quill suggested that “as more business activity resumes, instructions should start to near pre-Covid levels here too”.

Recovery has also been slower in immigration-related cases, presumably in the light of travel restrictions.

Quill managing director Julian Bryan said: “After a tricky few months, it is great to see new instructions returning so rapidly to pre-pandemic levels in so many areas of law—and in many cases well exceeding them.

“It shows that this is a very robust sector with lots to look forward to as the UK continues its journey back to normality. With demand for services set to remain high, law firm leaders can embark on strategic planning and spending with confidence.”


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