The number of firms and practising solicitors in England and Wales has decreased for the first time ever, according to the latest Law Society's Annual Statistical Report. The number of admissions and training contracts are down to the lowest levels since 1999.
According to the report for 2012 the number of practising certificate holders linked to a named organisation on 31 July 2012 increased by just 0.25% relative to July 2011 - the smallest increase since 1996 and well below the average annual growth rate of 3.6%.
The number of practising certificate holders working in private practice in firms registered in England and Wales stands at 87,768 in 2012 compared to 87,973 in 2011. The figures contrast sharply with previous trends which show that, since 1982, the total number of practising certificate holders increased by 208.5% at an average annual rate of 3.8%.
Commenting on the findings, Desmond Hudson, Law Society Chief Executive, said: "There is fiercer competition in the legal market than ever before and many of the assumptions that have underpinned the nature and status of practising as a lawyer are being challenged in this difficult environment.
"Tough economic conditions combined with legal services liberalisation, changes to legal aid funding and the civil costs regime are having a major impact on the business models of many firms."