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Number of solicitors on the roll hits 200,000 for first time

Solicitors: An increasingly diverse group

The number of solicitors on the roll has topped 200,000 for the first time, with 150,000 now practising – but the profession’s rate of growth is slowing.

Meanwhile, the proportion of solicitors working in private practice has fallen to an all-time low.

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the 200,000 mark was passed at the start of the year.

Solicitors on the roll without a practising certificate (PC) include those who have not applied for their name to be removed, those working in jobs for which a PC is not required, retired solicitors, and those on maternity or child care leave.

The figure has risen by a fifth in five years, more rapid than the increase in the number with PCs, which reflects the fact that while every December the SRA terminates those PCs which have not been renewed, it has not carried out a ‘keeping of the roll’ exercise since 2014.

Non-practising solicitors used to have to confirm their information annually and pay £25 to stay on the roll, but the SRA abolished that.

The most recent SRA figures put the number of solicitors with PCs at just shy of 150,000, but the Law Society’s annual statistical report [1] for the year to 31 July 2019, published last week, showed that the number of PC holders had increased by 27% over the decade, compared to 45% in the previous 10 years and 49% in the decade before that.

The female majority of practising solicitors – first achieved in 2017 [2] – continues to grow, hitting 51.6% last year.

This gap is set only to widen, with women making up close to two-thirds of new trainees in 2019 – and nearly 70% of undergraduate law students.

At the same time, there remains a gap the other way at the more experienced end of the profession –only 20% of female solicitors have been qualified for 20 years or more, compared 42% of men. Men remain in the majority of solicitors aged over 45.

The partnership gap has also not changed – just 18.5% of female solicitors were partners, compared to 40.2% of men.

Those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups also continue to increase steadily as a proportion of practising solicitors, to 17.5% with known ethnicity. This compares with 13.4% BAME representation in the working population. More than 57% of BAME solicitors are women.

Just under a quarter of BAME solicitors are partners, compared to 35% of White solicitors. BAME solicitors are far more likely to be sole practitioners or partners in firms of two to four partners than their White counterparts.

Perhaps surprisingly, of bigger firms, BAME solicitors are most likely to be partners at the very largest, those with more than 80 partners, and least likely at firms of 11-25 partners.

Meanwhile, 41% of undergraduate law students are from BAME backgrounds

The number of private practice law firms continues gradually to fall – down to 113 to 9,339 last year – as does the proportion of practising solicitors who work in private practice, to an all-time low of 65% (it was 87% 30 years ago).

Some 23% of practising solicitors work in-house, although the Law Society said this figure was likely to be an underestimate.

The number of traineeships registered in 2018-19 went up 9.2% to 6,344.