The legal sector has enjoyed a ‘golden decade’ with revenue and net exports growing year-on-year – but issues around diversity and privilege remain unresolved, research has shown.
According to a report by lobby group TheCityUK, revenue generated by UK legal activities has trended strongly upwards over the past 10 years, reaching £36.8bn in 2019, a 4% increase on 2018. This added to a total growth in revenue of 44% between 2010-2019.
Much of the revenue was generated by the UK’s top 100 law firms, which netted nearly £28bn in 2019/20. The majority of large firms saw an increase in revenue, with only 10 firms in the top 100 recording decreases for the year 2019/20. None was in the top 25.
The final quarter of these year-end figures takes account of the economic downturn caused by Covid-19. However, many of the statistics cited by TheCityUK are from 2019, so they do not reflect the impact of the pandemic.
Net exports of UK legal services reached £5.9bn in 2019, a year-on-year increase of 11.4%. Over the past decade, that figure has grown by around 88%, from £3.1bn in 2010.
Legal technology was also identified as a strong growth area. According to the study, investment in ‘lawtech’ has tripled over the past two years, with starts-ups and scale-ups now attracting a total of £290m in investment and employing nearly 4,500 people.
However TheCityUK said social mobility remains a challenge for the profession. According to the study, lawyers are still disproportionately likely to come from privileged backgrounds, with 21% of solicitors having attended private schools, compared with 7% of the general population.
Partners are even more likely to have attended fee paying schools (23%), and privately educated lawyers are more highly represented still at firms that mostly do corporate work (46%).
Miles Celic, chief executive officer of TheCityUK, said: ‘The past 10 years have proven to be a golden decade for the UK legal services sector. The sector has continued to steam ahead, consolidating the UK as one of the world’s leading centres for legal advice and expert dispute resolution.
‘As we look ahead to the next decade, there will be challenges to navigate resulting from the global Covid pandemic and our new relationship with the EU. Yet there are also many exciting opportunities for UK legal services to take forward.’