The truth about the legal sector decline: the work is still out there

The truth about the legal sector decline: the work is still out there

By Richard Tromans

If a business is not reinventing itself to adapt to changing market conditions then it is highly likely it will go into decline or be taken over by those that are better adapted to the new environment. Simply put: if you’re not evolving, you’re dying. The one exception to this is when there is no environmental change and no change in competitive pressure; however, such scenarios are very rare in nature or in business, and law is certainly not in such a position.

The terminal part of this equation is what happened to British heavy industry, to the traditional City brokers before the Big Bang of 1986, and is now happening to parts of the UK legal sector.

But how bad is it? Is the UK legal sector truly in decline? There is certainly sufficient bad news to develop a narrative of decline. But what is the story behind the data? Let us consider the evidence.

Any reader of the legal press would have seen that dozens of staff, both lawyers and support roles, have been axed from the Top 100 law firms since the start of the new financial year. Countless other lawyers have also no doubt lost their jobs in smaller firms around the country, but their losses have gone unreported.

At the same time Law Society data revealed that the number of training contracts offered in England & Wales had fallen in 2012 to just 4,869, the lowest since 1998/99. This means that after huge growth in the total number of lawyers practising today, now 128,778 solicitors up from just 54,734 in 1990, the legal market does not appear to want many more young solicitors.

Worse still, when firms do take on a reduced number of trainees, far fewer than in the pre-2008 years are offered permanent jobs and become fully functioning solicitors. Also, part of the apparently counter-logical growth in total solicitor numbers is due to more lawyers choosing not to retire. Solicitors as a species are therefore aging, but not “reproducing”. One does not have to be an evolutionary biologist to understand what this suggests: long term species decline.

But, let us look at the dil

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About the author:

Richard helps law firms with important strategic decisions. He advises on areas such as merger, practice development and geographical expansion. He also provides assistance to law firms in relation to organisational and operational issues.

Richard has spent over 16 years working in the legal sector focused on the UK and global legal markets. He previously worked at Jomati as a strategy consultant and authored the Jomati Report series between 2009 and 2014.

Prior to that, Richard worked at US-based, Hildebrandt International, and also held senior, legal sector editorial roles in London and Paris.