Report hails 'golden decade' for UK legal services

The past ten years have been a "golden decade" for legal services in the UK with growth in employment, exports and technology establishing the sector as a leading global player, according to a report on Thursday.

The report, ‘Legal Excellence: Internationally Renowned’, compiled annually by financial and professional services trade association TheCityUK, also found widespread advances in diversity, but said more needed to be done at senior level.Revenue generated by legal activities in the UK, the report said, had "trended strongly upwards over the past decade", reaching £36.8 billion last year, a 3.9 per cent increase on 2018 and 44 per cent greater than in 2010.In 2019, net exports of UK legal services amounted to £5.9 billion, a year-on-year increase of 11.4 per cent, while the number of people employed and self-employed in the sector stood at 350,000 - up from 318,000 ten years earlier - with two-thirds of the jobs based outside London.Miles Celic, CEO of TheCityUK, commented: "The past ten years have proven to be a golden decade for the UK legal services sector. The sector has continued to steam ahead, consolidating the UK as one of the world’s leading centres for legal advice and expert dispute resolution.“As we look ahead to the next decade, there will be challenges to navigate resulting from the global Covid pandemic and our new relationship with the EU."Yet there are also many exciting opportunities for UK legal services to take forward. These include continuing to build on its early leadership position in LawTech innovation, to further enhancing diversity and inclusion across the sector, and consolidating the UK’s significant international legal services leadership.”The report said the UK had become a global hub for LawTech in a market now worth $15.9 billion globally. "It benefits from a highly developed legal market, a technology talent pipeline, a competitive tax system, a liberal regulatory regime and the recognition of the importance of innovation by government," said the report.Investment in UK LawTech has tripled over the past two years, with starts-ups and scale-ups now attracting £290 million in investment and employing nearly 4,500 people. The UK is home to 44 per cent of all LawTech start-ups in the EU."This rapid development is the result of an extensive network of ‘tech labs’ created by law firms, universities and other corporate organisations, including financial services businesses," said TheCityUK in a statement.On diversity, the report found that the sector had made "significant progress" but that these gains had yet to be reflected at senior level.Last year in England and Wales, the number of women with practising certificates again outnumbered men by more than 4,500, while the percentage of BAME ethnic groups obtaining practising certificates rose to 17.5 per cent.However, the report found that only a third of law firm partners were women and that only 16.2 per cent of QCs were female."This trend is more marked in the UK’s 100 largest law firms, where only 29 per cent of partners are women, and only six per cent of partners are BAME. For equity partners, the figures are 24 per cent female and four per cent from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups," said TheCityUK.The report also highlighted the continued growth of in-house legal teams in the UK - a trend particularly noticeable across highly regulated sectors such as financial services, pharmaceuticals and telecoms. In England and Wales, more than 22 per cent of all practising certificate holders, or some 29,500 people, worked in-house in 2019, up from 16 per cent a decade earlier.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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