Fears of bubble as number of practising solicitors passes 140,000

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Oct 24, 2017
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There are fears that there will be insufficient legal work to sustain so many lawyers

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The number of practising solicitors in England and Wales has smashed through the 140,000 barrier for the first time, sparking fears of a legal profession bubble that is bound to burst.

Figures released yesterday from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) showed that there are 142,515 practising solicitors in the jurisdiction, an increase of more than 5 per cent since the end of last year.

The profession has grown by more than 26.5 per cent since the end of 2009 and commentators are increasingly speculating that the amount of legal work will struggle to sustain such a steady increase in practising lawyers.

Tony Williams, a former City lawyer who runs a legal profession consultancy, told the Law Society Gazette that worrying signs loomed for the profession. “If you look at utilisation rates and hours declining, and revenue per lawyer which seems to have flatlined, margins have been squeezed and yet firms are still recruiting.

“The fact that the profession is still adding bodies when there is spare capacity is odd, and you would expect if anything for it to be going the other way.”

The rate of growth in England and Wales contrasts with that north of the border. A Law Society of Scotland spokeswoman said that there were 11,843 practising solicitors in Scotland, up from about 10,000 in 2008.

The SRA said that despite Brexit the number of registered European lawyers in England and Wales had continued to increase gradually. There are now 2,923 lawyers from EU member states in the jurisdiction, up from 2,784 at the time of the EU referendum last June.

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