140,000 lawyers – a sign of change or unsustainable bubble?

140,000 lawyers – a sign of change or unsustainable bubble?

News that the number of practising solicitors in England and Wales has gone over the 140,000 barrier for the first time, has many in the mainstream media fearing the rising figures are unsustainable.

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), there are now 142,515 practising solicitors in the jurisdiction, which is an increase of 5 per cent on 2016.

Of course, working in legal PR, we know that statistics can be a great headline and sometimes there is more to be read by analysing a trend, but with the profession growing by more than 26.5 per cent since the end of 2009, commentators in recent times in the legal media are speculating that the amount of legal work will struggle to sustain the continual increase in practising lawyers.

However, interestingly, the SRA has said that despite Brexit the number of registered European lawyers in England and Wales had continued to increase gradually. There are now 2,923 lawyers from EU member states in the jurisdiction, up from 2,784 at the time of the summer 2016 EU referendum.

So is this figure unsustainable?

Of course, as many of you will appreciate, fear sells news, and the media is all about grabbing attention, so it is notable that there seems to be a great lack of in-depth debate by respected experts as to why these figures are so high.

What appears evident though, is that we live in an era where new laws are plentiful – the statute books have more pages than ever, so whilst the number of laws increases, surely won’t that mean that legal experts will grow too?

After all, it’s at a time when red tape rules and Brexit alone is estimated to see more than 1,000 new laws being introduced, according to a report in The Independent

We would argue that Brexit and a more litigious society are more balanced reasons for the record number of lawyers, rather than many firms getting their figures, so woefully wrong that they are hiring people they don’t need!

Maybe, with hindsight in a few years’ time, we can make more sense of this, but what is certain is the rapid speed of change and uncertainty, particularly surrounding our departure from our European neighbours.

We are witnessing a new legal landscape and a breed of lawyer, who is more commercially savvy than the profession used to be – one who is used to embracing technology, and willing to rewrite the rule book on what the role of a lawyer is in the 21st century.

Such figures and new blood in the profession means the ‘old school’ lawyer needs to up its game in attracting new audiences and being relevant and viable. Time waits for no one, and that applies to the legal profession, as much as any other.