Solicitors by numbers: Hiring activity on the up

There was a significant increase in the number of practising solicitors in 2014, according to newly-released research.

The Law Society's latest Annual Statistics Report shows a 2.1 per cent hike when compared to 2013 levels, underlining how the candidate pool is growing rapidly as firms look to build their teams.

Both in-house and private practice numbers increased. The four per cent hike for private practice is the fastest rate of growth for nine years, and this was achieved despite the number of private practice firms actually declining for the fourth consecutive year.

London continues to be the dominant location, as one in three solicitors are based in the capital, while one in five work for a City firm.

Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon is encouraged by the findings, as she thinks it demonstrates that the legal sector is "back in the business of hiring after a rocky few years".

Closing the gender gap
There has also been a further narrowing in the gender gap, with women now making up 48.2 per cent of practising solicitors. This is up from 47.7 per cent in 2013 and 40.5 per cent ten years ago, with equality expected to be achieved in 2017.

It demonstrates the ongoing commitment shown by law firms to make sure more women enter the sector, and to provide genuine opportunities for advancement when they get there. Indeed, almost one-third of new partners in the Magic Circle's latest appointment round were female.

"The legal landscape is changing and diversity is improving, but there is still a gender and ethnicity gap for partner positions," Ms Dixon stated.

Diversity still a major issue
Positive steps have been made when it comes to black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, with representation more than doubling since 2000. Some 15 per cent of practising solicitors now fall into this category.

White Europeans account for more than three-quarters (77.3 per cent) of the profession, however, while one-third of solicitors from this demographic cohort are partners - this falls to one-fifth for BAME lawyers.

This demonstrates how there is still progress to be made and the findings could strengthen calls for diversity quotas to be introduced. Cordella Bart-Stewart, sole principal of Stewart & Co and one of the founders of the Black Solicitors Network (BSN), recently told legal regulators that it is time to consider this measure to promote greater diversity.

Matthew Arnold & Baldwin topped the most recent BSN Diversity League Table thanks to its position in both the 'policy and practice' and 'demographic' tables. It has risen steadily since 2011, when it was ranked in tenth place.

"Through our Diversity and Inclusion Charter, and by working closely with law firms, we aim to support the profession to share best practice and demonstrate that good diversity, inclusion and social mobility policies actually give a competitive advantage," Ms Dixon said.

The Law Society's Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division seeks to address some of the issues encountered by BAME solicitors, as the community is designed to provide tailored information, advice and training.