Historic shift as women outnumber men practising as solicitors

As the solicitor profession becomes increasingly diverse, pressure is growing for greater equality in the workplace, the Law Society of England and Wales said as its Annual Statistics report for 2017 revealed there are now more women than men practising as solicitors.

Law Society president Joe Egan said: “With more women than men and a steadily growing proportion of solicitors from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background, it is more important than ever the profession recognises and rewards talent equally.

“Every step towards greater equality will benefit businesses, clients and solicitors alike. We are keen to support our members in adopting and shaping best practice so that law firms comply not just with the letter but also with the spirit of the law. Our diversity charter, diversity access scheme, social mobility ambassadors and our fair recruitment toolkit are just some examples of our work to help people succeed in the sector regardless of background.

“An important foundation is transparency, and this includes gender pay gap reporting. The Law Society supports the inclusion of partner pay alongside employee pay data in gender pay gap reporting as an important step towards greater equality. This will give firms a useful benchmark and enable an evidence-based action plan to tackle inequalities.

Key findings

  • There were 139,624 solicitors with practising certificates (PC holders), a 2.5% increase on 2016 figures and broadly in line with annual growth over the last ten years.


  • Women now make up 50.1% of the 139,624 PC holders and 48% of the 93,155 solicitors working in private practice.
  • Women made up 61.6% of new admissions in 2016/17.
  • Women PC holders are younger on average (40 years of age) than male PC holders (45 years).


  • 16.5% of PC holders (with known ethnicity) are from BAME groups. Asian solicitors remain the best represented of BAME groups, making up 8.2% of all PC holders.
  • Almost two-fifths of those accepted onto first degree law courses for 2017/18 are BAME students.
  • However, ethnicity was unknown for 69% of new admissions to the profession. This follows a move to online self-provision of ethnicity by new solicitors through the Solicitors Regulation Authority website. The lack of complete data on ethnicity has an increasing impact on the ability to monitor diversity within the profession.

Joe Egan added: “It is becoming increasingly difficult to get an accurate picture of ethnic diversity in the solicitor profession as the regulator (the Solicitors Regulation Authority) has moved to online provision of ethnicity by new solicitors, and many choose not to provide this information.

“As a consequence, it will grow increasingly difficult to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion approaches.

“As the professional body for solicitors, we want to see a sector that leads the way on promoting genuine equality across all workplaces. Transparency, monitoring and evaluation are essential components of any effective long-term strategy to achieve greater equality at all levels of the solicitor profession.”

Key findings on business models

  • While the in-house segment continues to expand at a sharper rate than private practice, more stability in the respective shares of the two areas has become evident.
  • Partnerships, including sole practices, accounted for 45% of firms, down from 60% five years earlier. The limited liability structure continues to grow in popularity.
  • The number of private practice firms overall has increased for the second year in a row, to 9,488. This modest increase over the previous 12 months (58 firms) is entirely due to the growth of firms with a sole owner. Three-fifths (60%) of firms’ total revenue was from business to business work
  • 600 Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) made up 6.3% of all firms. The number of ABSs rose by 125 in the year to July 2017, after increases of 116 and 102 firms over the previous two years.

Entry to the profession:

  • A 3.6% rise in applications led to a record number of students (23,605) accepted onto first degree law courses in England and Wales for 2017/18.
  • Further growth was recorded in the proportions of law graduates in England and Wales awarded first and upper second-class degrees (71.5% in 2017 up from 55.8% in 2007).
  • Trainee registrations in the year to 31 July 2017 remained more-or-less static at 5,719, after two years of growth.
  • Private practices provided the training ground for 91.9% of new trainees.
  • The year to 31 July 2017 saw the second consecutive annual increase in the number of Roll admissions, from 6,346 in 2015/16 to 6,478 in 2016/17.
  • Admissions via overseas transfers represented almost one in ten admissions, increasing from 532 in 2015/16 to 661 in 2016/17.

Notes to editors

For a full copy of the report contact harriet.beaumont@lawsociety.org.uk

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Harriet Beaumont | harriet.beaumont@lawsociety.org.uk | 020 8049 3854