The number of solicitors has grown by nearly 50%, and the number of firms by a third, in the past decade, Legal Futures research has discovered.
According to figures released by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) yesterday, for the first time the number of solicitors on the roll has topped 150,000 (it is now 153,971), and the number of practising solicitors has gone over 120,000 (120,917).
In 2000 there were 82,769 practising solicitors and 104,538 solicitors on the roll, meaning the ranks have grown by 46% and 47% respectively. These figures were in turn just over 50% higher than in 1990.
Between 2000 and 2009, the number of practising barristers grew 20% to 15,270.
The findings mean there is no sign of the profession’s growth slowing down, despite the growing pressure on the profession to make more use of unqualified staff for routine legal tasks and the likes of Professor Stephen Mayson declaring that there are too many solicitors. The number of solicitors has been growing around 50% every decade since the 1970s. On this basis, there will be a million solicitors in around 2055.
As of 30 September there were 10,962 law firms (actually down slightly from the previous quarter), compared to 8,319 in 2000, a rise of 32%.
The SRA’s performance report also said there were indications of the “increased pressure on solicitors as a result of the current economic situation”. These came in the rising number of allegations received by the SRA about the failure to report misconduct and financial difficulties, and also about firms facing bankruptcy, liquidation and receivership. At the same time, allegations about debts, dishonoured office account cheques, and practices being abandoned are on a downward trend.
The figures also reflect the increase in the number of solicitors struck off, as previously reported by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (see story), with 82 removed from the roll in the year to September, compared with 68 in the previous 12 months, a rise of 21%. However, the number of interventions fell to 76 in the year to September, down from 87 the year before, with those interventions in which dishonesty was suspected dropping nearly a quarter to 20, representing 28% of interventions.