For many coming out of University after three years with a Law degree, the prospects seem daunting. The dearth of training contracts prompts fierce competition, and many graduates struggle to attain paralegal or entry-level jobs. In this context, and in light of other developments in the sector (e.g. cuts to legal aid and reforms to PI), an observer would expect that the market would see a decrease in the number of solicitors. However, the reality appears to be quite different.
Figures released by the Law Society in August 2017 show the numbers had increased to over 140,000 practising solicitors, and currently stand at 141,811. Since September 2009, numbers have consistently risen, with only relatively modest decreases of a few thousand when a trough appears. Although the market is complex, and consequently broad inferences are hard to formulate without intricate cross-discipline research, developments suggest that this number may soon stagnate or decline.
Despite the attention given to technological advances and its effects, the immediate influences are likely to lie elsewhere. Alternate routes to qualification like CILEX are likely to increase, given the advantages in terms of price and the qualifying employment. The establishment of ABS, although not as explosive as predicted at the time, are gradually affecting firms as non-qualified employees enter the higher echelons. Finally, the outsourcing of legal work to non-qualified fee earners and outside agencies, which infringes on work traditionally carried out by solicitors.
It remains to be seen what effect of the SRA 'Super Exam', alongside the scrapping of the LPC and GDL, will have on the number of solicitors. The SRA has stated that it intends to 'break the training contract bottleneck', a goal which may see the numbers increase beyond current levels.
The number of practising solicitors in England and Wales has reached another all-time high as the profession continues to defy all predictions of a potential shakeout. In August, the Solicitors Regulation Authority reports, the number of PC-holders in England and Wales passed 140,000 for the first time. There was a further intake of more than 2,000 in September. Regulatory data shows there are now 15,000 more solicitors than five years ago.