The number of solicitors in private practice grew at its fastest rate for nine years in 2014, further confirming the profession’s recovery from economic crisis and recession.

One in three of all solicitors are based in London and one in five work for a City firm.

By 2017, it is predicted, there will be as many women solicitors as men. But women are much more likely to work in-house.

These are among the headline findings of the Law Society’s Annual Statistics Report: Trends in the solicitors’ profession, published today.

At 31 July 2014, there were 130,382 solicitors with practising certificates. Some 90,306 were in private practice, a 4% rise on the previous year.

In-house continues to grow, registering a 0.6% rise year on year to employ 21.1% of all PC holders. A quarter of this group are women.

Representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups continued to grow in 2014 – to 15% – and has more than doubled since 2000. Some 56% of BAME solicitors are women.

The number of students graduating from first degree law courses in England and Wales rose to a new high of 16,120 in 2014. But the number of training contracts registered was 6% lower than the previous year at 5,001.

Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: ‘It is encouraging that the legal services market is back in the business of hiring after a rocky few years, although we know that some areas such as publicly funded legal advice are likely to remain challenging.

‘The legal landscape is changing and diversity is improving, but there is still a gender and ethnicity gap for partner positions.

‘Through our Diversity and Inclusion Charter, and by working closely with law firms, we aim to support the profession to share best practice and demonstrate that good diversity, inclusion and social mobility policies actually give a competitive advantage.’