The Legal Services Board (LSB) has compiled data from various sources that suggest the legal services sector overall has, so far, remained broadly stable during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The emerging data indicates that while some parts of the legal services profession have faced significant difficulties over the last 12 months, overall numbers of regulated lawyers have not changed significantly and are in line with trends that existed before the pandemic.
The data compares the numbers of solicitors, costs lawyers, licensed conveyancers, notaries, probate practitioners, intellectual property lawyers, and chartered legal executives registered to practise before the start of the pandemic with the numbers registered since the pandemic. Information on the numbers of barristers is not yet available.
Data from the Solicitors Regulation Authority shows that the number of practising regulated solicitors in England and Wales increased by 4.7% from 146,092 in December 2019 to 152,997 in December 2020. Over the same period, the number of regulated law firms in England and Wales fell by 1.9%, from 10,278 to 10,080. This is in line with a steady fall in firm numbers from a peak of 11,304 in June 2012.
426 law firms opened, and 539 closed. The reasons for the closures were:
- Ceased to practise: 319
- Merger: 127
- Change of status: 62
- Other (no reason was given): 31
We do not have figures on the use of furlough among solicitors, and the end of the scheme may affect the number who continue to practise. So far, though, concerns that a significant number of lawyers might leave the profession because of Covid-19 have not transpired. However, the overall numbers mask that the pandemic has affected parts of the sector differently. Generally, legal aid firms, for example, have struggled, with over 70 offices closing since April 2020.
We know that the pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on some groups of people in society, such as people from BAME backgrounds, women, and young people at the start of their careers. Further data and research is needed to understand how it is affecting legal services.
New data on the turnover of services industries from the latest ONS Monthly Business Survey shows that in 2020, the annual turnover of legal services in the UK remained flat at £36.8 billion – the same as in 2019.
The turnover of all UK services fell by 14%, from £2,274.8 billion in 2019 to £1,957.3 billion in 2020.
While Covid-19 has caused growth in the legal services sector to flatten, there was a 5% fall in turnover between 2008 and 2009 following the financial crash. Following a growth period, turnover fell again by 2.8% between 2015 and 2016, possibly linked to the EU referendum.
The Legal Services Board has been tracking the impact of the pandemic on the legal services sector through its Covid-19 dashboard since June 2020.
Dr Helen Philips, Chair of the Legal Services Board, said:
“For the first time, we can see the emerging data on the impact on the profession in terms of turnover and numbers of regulated firms and lawyers. Turnover in the legal services sector remained flat in 2020, while turnover across all UK services fell. Overall numbers of regulated law firms and legal professionals in England and Wales remained stable.
“The overall figures mask that the crisis has affected parts of the profession differently. As our Covid-19 dashboard shows, there have been substantial changes in consumer demand across different parts of the sector, with some areas dropping off significantly and others booming. The LSB’s focus continues to be on supporting recovery, growth and competition that supports the public interest.
“We are very concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on the diversity of the profession. As the sector recovers, we must continue creating and supporting a sector that looks like the society it serves.
“Everyone who needs legal advice must be able to access it, and we are committed to working with everyone inside and outside the profession to reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society.”
Data from the other regulated legal professions
Data on licensed conveyancers
The CLC regulates individuals and businesses that offer conveyancing and probate activities in England in Wales. 223 practices were regulated at the end of 2020 – 11 fewer than the previous year. 2 practices left due to insolvency. There is no metric to link them to the Covid-19 pandemic specifically.
The overall number of regulated individuals increased by 3.3% (45) from 1,369 to 1,414 between 2019 and 2020.
65 individuals left CLC regulation, with 15 taking a career break and two becoming unemployed. Again, there is no specific data to capture the impact of Covid-19 here.
Data on probate practitioners regulated by ICAEW
The number of probate firms regulated by ICAEW in England and Wales increased by 6.3% (20) from 319 to 339 between 31 January 2020 and 31 December 2020. There were 35 new registrations, while 15 withdrew.
The overall number of individual probate practitioners regulated by ICAEW in England and Wales increased by 5.4% (28) from 518 to 546 between 31 January 2020 and 31 December 2020. There were 54 new registrations, while 26 withdrew.
Data on notaries
The Faculty Office regulates the notarial profession in England and Wales. In April 2021, it regulated 742 notaries. In March 2021, this fell overall by 1.89% (14) to 728.
11 notaries have taken a career break (sabbatical/parental leave), 18 have retired, and one has died. Two notaries cited Covid-19 as a reason for not renewing their practising certificate.
Data on chartered legal executives
CILEx Regulation regulates legal professionals and law firms. Two of the firms it regulated closed in 2020. Data on individuals registered with CILEx Regulation will be available at the end of March 2021.
Data on costs lawyers
The Costs Lawyer Standards Board regulates costs lawyers in England and Wales. In December 2020, there were 707 individuals on the costs lawyers register. 675 of these renewed their practising certificate for 2021. 32 terminated their registration – this is fewer than in previous years. However, seven were specifically related to the pandemic (unemployment, bereavement, uncertainty, full-time childcare, long Covid, and insufficient continuous professional development).
Data on intellectual property lawyers
The Intellectual Property Regulation (IPReg) Board regulates Patent Attorneys & Trade Mark Attorneys in the UK.
Patent and Trade Mark entities
As of 10 March 2021, IPReg’s registers had the following numbers:
- Patent entities – 102 (Licensed = 22, Registered = 80)
- Trade Mark entities – 30 (Licensed = 4, Registered = 26)
Entities leaving the register from 1 December 2020 – 18 March 2021:
- Total = 2 (1 x both registers licensed body, 1 x both registers registered body)
- 1 left the register as it was acquired by another registered body
- 1 left the register as the Director set up a new entity with another attorney
Patent and Trade Mark attorneys
As of 10 March 2021, IPReg’s registers had the following numbers:
- Patent attorneys – 2,154
- Trade Mark attorneys – 762
- Patent and Trade Mark attorneys – 249 (i.e. on both registers)
(Total = 3,165)
Voluntary Removal attorneys, 1 December 2020 – 18 March 2021:
- Patent attorneys – 14
- Trade Mark attorneys – 8
- Patent and Trade Mark attorneys – 10 (i.e. on both registers)
(Total = 32)
Reasons given (they can select more than one option):
- Retirement – 21
- Career change – 6
- Ill health – 2
- Prefer not to say – 1
- Other – 3 (all reference moving abroad/no longer practising UK work)
- Moving to the unregulated sector – 0
Note to editors
The LSB wrote to the legal services regulators on 9 February 2021 to request information on the number of lawyers renewing their practising certificates and the numbers of law firms. This would indicate changes to the numbers of lawyers and law firms regulated.
The following regulators have shared information: The Solicitors Regulation Authority, CLC, ICAEW, Faculty Office, CILEx Regulation, Costs Lawyer Standards Board, and the Intellectual Property Regulation Board.
Information from the Bar Standards Board won’t be available until later in the year. Data on individuals registered with CILEx Regulation will be available at the end of March 2021.
The ONS Monthly Business Survey data quoted is available on the ONS website.
Data on closures of legal aid offices comes from the Legal Aid Group.