The vast majority of firms (82%) are confident about the outlook for the legal sector in 2014 – the most positive response since 2007, according to a respected annual survey.

Last year, 61% of firms said they were positive about the outlook for 2013, according to research from accountancy firm Smith & Williamson.

The increased optimism reflects signs of growth in the UK economy, it said. However, it noted that competition for work was strong.

Some 81% of the 102 firms surveyed said the business environment has become more competitive in the past 12 months, with nine in 10 respondents expecting to see greater levels of competition.

Cost control, recruitment of lateral hires and IT were named as the three most important areas for boosting profits across firms of all sizes.

Larger firms said overseas expansion would also be a key growth strategy for 2014. Around a third of firms said they are considering mergers.