Annual statistics report 2022: what does the solicitor profession look like?
Our annual statistics report has been compiled for over 30 years. It provides a comprehensive picture of how the size, demographics and structure of the solicitor profession has evolved.
This report provides an authoritative record of the numbers of solicitors and the types of organisations they work in, as of 31 July 2022.
Building a modern, diverse and inclusive profession
The number of solicitors on the roll stood at 216,173 as of July 2022, a 3.3% increase from July 2021.
The number of practising certificate (PC) holders also increased by 2% to a total of 156,976 solicitors.
In December 1922, Carrie Morrison became the first woman to be admitted to the roll, and in 2022 we celebrated the women who broke down barriers.
In the 100th anniversary year of the first female solicitor, female PC holders made up 53% of those who reported their sex.
Also in 2022, we launched our diversity and inclusion framework to help firms develop a strategic and systematic approach to diversity and inclusion that creates lasting change.
With 53% of the profession reporting being female and members of the profession reporting as Black, Asian or minority ethnic background totalling 18.4% of PC holders as of July 2022 – the importance of having a diverse and inclusive organisations is clearer than ever.
It’s essential that we make sure all solicitors – regardless of background – are working in environments where they can thrive.
Exploring alternative career paths
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a steady shift in attitudes to work and work-life balance across all sectors, with the legal profession being no exception.
More and more solicitors are exploring alternative career paths and considering how they can progress their careers in settings outside of the traditional route to partnership within a private practice firm.
The number of solicitors working in-house has been steadily increasing over the last few years, with in-house practitioners now making up over a quarter of the profession (26%).
At the same time, PC holders working in private practice dropped by nearly 2% to 95,729 in the year to July 2022.
The number of solicitors employed outside private practice reached 34,680 in the same period – an increase of 3.9% from July 2021.
Solicitors in Greater London and the City of London continue to make up the majority of the profession, accounting for 40.5% and 21% of PC holders in the year to July 2022, respectively.
Since 2012, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of solicitors based in the South West, with a 56.6% growth in PC holders in this region between 2012 and 2022.
The North West has the highest number of PC holders outside of London, with 9.2% of the profession (14,509 PC holders) based in this region.
Numbers of PC holders in Wales has also seen some percentage growth in the 10-year period from 2012 to 2022, with PC holders in Wales totalling 3,887 as of July 2022.
Our president, Nick Emmerson, has committed to championing the value that the profession brings locally, in communities, towns and cities across England and Wales, during his presidential year. He will visit and listen to solicitors across the country, to make sure the voices of our members are heard.
Nick said: “As president, I am eager to hear [our members’] stories and ensure their voices are heard on the national stage.
“This is particularly important as legal aid deserts continue to rise, particularly in the North. We must adopt a regional focus in our work, so justice is accessible in all parts of the country.
“By recognising the local value of our profession, we can support members and communities in regions across England and Wales.”
Partnership sizes and number of firms drop
The majority of firms saw a decline in their partnership sizes in the year to July 2022.
‘Sole practitioner’ and ‘sole owner’ are used interchangeably in the report, referring to private practice firms with only one PC holder who is a partner. They account for 43% of all registered firms and saw a 3.6% decrease from July 2021 to July 2022.
The number of firms registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) dropped below 9,000 in the year to July 2022, a decline that we have been seeing for over five years.
This reduction in the number of firms reflects a growing trend of closures and mergers, particularly in the small to mid-size (SME) market. These firms include those who specialise in legal aid and high-street work.
There are possible implications for individuals and small businesses where there are fewer firms serving their needs, but also potential benefits where firms are able to deliver at scale and more efficiently.
Alongside the increase in solicitors working outside of private practice, these numbers suggest increased competition for SME private practice firms; from larger firms, and when it comes to recruitment and retention of talent.
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How this data can help you
As a business, you can use the findings from the report to inform your workplace planning, recruitment strategies and diversity initiatives with a longer-term view.
As an individual, you can use the report to inform your career choices and planning by staying up to date with trends within the legal profession.