The past decade has seen a significant shift in the numbers of solicitors working in-house, further demonstrating that the sector’s impact extends well beyond the output of law firms and chambers, according to TheCityUK’s 10th annual report on the UK’s legal services sector, ‘Legal excellence, internationally renowned: UK legal services 2021’.
The data shows that almost a quarter (24%) of all solicitors in England and Wales, totalling over 31,000 people, worked in the in-house sector in 2020, up from 16% a decade earlier. Scotland has also experienced a similar trend, with 32% of Scotland-based solicitors working in-house in 2021, up from 22% in 2010.
While the number and proportion of in-house lawyers has increased, the UK’s top 100 law firms have also continued to grow total headcount, with year-on-year growth of 3% and total employment (including partners) now exceeding 77,000.
The UK’s legal services sector employed around 365,000 people in 2020 with much of this situated in the UK’s regions outside London. Regional sector employment data for 2019 shows the UK’s major centres of legal services employment, which include Manchester (with 14,000 in employment), Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds (9,000 each), and Glasgow, Edinburgh and Liverpool (7,000 each); two thirds of people employed in the sector overall are based outside London.
The UK is the largest legal services market in Europe (valued at £36.8bn in 2019) and is second only to the US globally. The UK’s position in legal services is helped by the international prestige of English common law, which forms the basis of the legal systems for some 27% of the world’s 320 jurisdictions. Meanwhile, the UK’s reputation as the leading centre for international dispute resolution is a strong driver for commercial parties to frequently opt for their contracts to be governed by English law.