The number of practising solicitors has reached an all-time high – 15,000 up on five years ago.
Snapshot figures of the profession taken by the Solicitors Regulation Authority at the end of July show 133,364 solicitors in practice. The number has grown every month since December 2014.
The previous peak of 133,327 was recorded in October 2014.
The latest figures show a remarkable growth in the profession since the height of the recession: at the same point five years ago 117,869 solicitors were practising, while figures reached a six-year low in December 2009 when they fell to 112,589.
Max Harris, chair of the Junior Lawyers Division, said young graduates are attracted by the variety of work the profession can offer. ‘From the opportunity of directly helping people, of offering advice to those in need, to working inside a business as in-house counsel or joining a commercial law firm, advising corporate giants, law is a highly challenging, satisfying and desirable career option,’ Harris said.
But he urged potential new entrants to be resilient and keep a positive attitude in the face of such competition for work. ‘Getting the qualifications themselves is tough and often getting a foot through the door is tougher. For that reason perseverance is essential when entering the profession.’
Legal educationalists said the record number of PC holders should be welcomed and taken as a sign of the strength of the profession in England and Wales.
‘As well as highlighting increased recruitment via an economic recovery in the legal sector, the legal profession is also becoming more appealing to new entrants, especially those from higher education,’ said Dr Giles Proctor, head of Roehampton Law School. ‘There is clear evidence, from seeing graduate recruiters at work in schools and universities, that law firms are modernising their practices and recognising that they have to work at attracting talent.’
Proctor said improved education and training, particularly giving students a taste of law as it works in the community, has encouraged more new entrants. Firms and legal education providers have also worked more closely to ensure that those entering the profession are equipped for it.
Andrew Callaghan, senior law lecturer at the University of Sheffield and a former partner at DLA Piper, said the rising numbers reflect increased demand for legal work, despite the commoditisation of some areas.
This is partly, he said, due to the continued growth of London as an international legal centre, the overseas expansion of UK legal practices, the increased number of in-house lawyers and the continued demand for some high street work.
He added that there is a sense that ‘solicitor’ is no longer a single profession but a term to describe many people doing different jobs. ‘Whether one’s motivation is financial, the expectation of job security, a love of the law, or a desire to ‘do good’, many aspiring solicitors will take comfort from the increase – it suggests there will be room in the profession for them,’ he said.