The UK top-100 firms continue to benefit from the economic recovery, according to an authoritative survey.

They have grown as a collective for the third consecutive quarter, though the average masked considerable variations.

Fees per earner increased by an average of 4.5% in the last three months to 31 January, compared to the same period last year, according to the legal sector survey from Deloitte.

The increase is on the back of 5.2% year-on-year growth in fees per earner for the six months to December, according to the firm’s previous survey.

At the top 25, fees increased by 6%, driven by a rise in average hourly rates of 3.5%. Growth in the top 51-100 firms was driven by merger activity, with fee income rising 16.9%. 

Jeremy Black, partner in Deloitte’s professional services practice, said: ‘Greater confidence among lawyers when negotiating rates, particularly against a background of limited fee-earner capacity has driven these increases.

‘However, the performance of individual firms in the top 100 continues to be diverse and those firms focused on the relatively stagnant domestic market continue to face significant challenges.

‘While competition is still fierce in the legal sector and clients remain cost conscious, for firms with exposure to the international M&A markets the outlook is looking brighter than it has for many years.’