The much-predicted exodus of solicitors and firms from the legal profession has yet to materialise, new Solicitors Regulation Authority figures have revealed.
The SRA’s regulated population update showed 3,189 fewer solicitors in March this year compared with the previous month.
But the drop, caused largely by solicitors not renewing their practising certificates for 2014, is only marginally greater than the 2,977 decrease in solicitor numbers at the same stage last year.
There are 127,423 practising solicitors in total – 2,231 more than in the aftermath of the 2013 renewal deadline.
Earlier this month the SRA wrote to around 4,000 solicitors who had not renewed their PC before the designated deadline, with those who did eventually renew likely to face a rebuke from the regulator later this year.
The number of firms has also shown a slight decrease – but not perhaps to the extent that some analysts predicted. By the end of February, 10,554 firms were practising in England and Wales – a reduction of 35 on the previous month.
Over a longer term, the trend is for a gradual decline in firm numbers. There are now 273 fewer firms than this time a year ago and 677 fewer than in March 2012.
In the three months up to November 2013 – the most recent date figures are available – 361 closed. But this is still less than the 381 that closed over the same period in 2012.
A gradual increase in firms closing has largely been offset by an increase in new practices starting up.
In the past year almost 1,000 firms have opened, compared with 831 in the previous 12 months. Of those firms that have closed in the past 12 months, 39% have ceased practising and 38.4% have merged or amalgamated.