Law firms are controlling costs in the economic downturn by increasing the ratio of fee-earners to support staff and by spending less on learning and development, a survey has revealed.

The survey of 47 medium to large firms by management and human resources consultancy Agenda Consulting shows that the average number of fee-earners to non-fee-earners rose over the last year from 1.2 to 1.3. The proportion of fee-earners to secretaries also rose in the same period, from 2.6 to 3.0.

Firms’ average spending on learning and development per person has dropped from £741 in 2008-9 to £674 in 2009-10. Firms are also spending less on employee benefits, such as pensions and medical insurance, with results showing a 35% decrease compared with 2007.

Agenda Consulting director Roger Parry said: ‘The effect of the economic downturn on some of the UK’s leading law firms is all too clear from this survey. Like most businesses, they have had to tighten their belts, concentrate on fee-earning and manage their cost base tightly.’

The 47 law firms that participated in the survey, People Count Law 2010, have a minimum of 100 staff and a maximum of 1,363, with a median of 428.