The Law Society today urged Brexit negotiators to prioritise legal services in trade talks after publishing a report showing the sector contributes far more to the economy than previously estimated.
According to analysis commissioned from KPMG, legal services contributed £60bn to the economy in 2018. This compares with the £25bn estimate contained in a similar study by the Big Four accounting firm in 2016.
The sharp hike is partly accounted for by a change in methodology. The new Gross Value Added figure encompasses not only the people directly employed in the sector, but also in other jobs such as in-house. GVA estimates the value of goods and services offset by costs of producing those services.
In 2017, the report discloses, legal services exports hit £5bn and made a positive net contribution to the UK’s balance of trade of £4.3bn. Productivity, meanwhile, soared by 17% between 2013 and 2018. The average value of each employee’s GVA contribution climbed to £100,500, compared to the national average of £54,330. A 1% rise in productivity this year could boost GDP by over £1bn, the report adds.
Employment fell by 0.7% in the five-year period, but legal services still accounts for over 1% of the total UK labour force. In 2018 legal services supported 552,000 full-time employees, including 150,000 indirectly in the supply chain. A further 43,000 were supported through the spending of employee wages.
The report also shows the value of pro bono work done by legal professionals. In 2017 some 43,800 solicitors worked 1,446,000 unbilled hours, worth an estimated £439m.
Law Society president Simon Davis said: ’This report shows the value of our sector to UK plc – that is why we think it is vital our trade negotiators put legal and other professional services at the heart of forthcoming talks on a new deal with Europe. It is crucial the government seeks to maintain access to the EU27 for our legal professionals as well as recognition of their qualifications once the post-Brexit transition period finishes at the end of 2020.’
Separately, Society vice-president David Greene last week joined justice minister Lucy Frazer MP and a team from Ministry of Justice for talks on what the UK legal services sector would seek in a trade deal with the US. ’Top of the list is recognition of qualification stateside and much will follow that,’ Greene tweeted.