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Number of council solicitors holds steady, as trainee placements jump by 50%

The number of solicitors employed by local government has remained broadly the same despite the budgetary pressure faced by councils, the Law Society’s annual statistical review (ASR) has suggested.

The ASR for 2013 also revealed:

  • a 50% jump in the number of training placements available at councils;
  • a fall in the number of practising solicitors across the profession as a whole for the first time in more than 20 years.

Published by Chancery Lane this week, the review shows that there were 4,467 practising certificate (PC) holders employed by local government as at 31 July last year.

This was down slightly on the 4,509 figure recorded as at 31 July 2012.

The high water mark for PC holders in local government was reached in 2011, when there were 4,665 PC holders. But the figure for 2013 remains higher than those for 2009 (4,372) and 2007 (4,018).

Female solicitors (2,982) accounted for 66.8% of the total employed by local government, the ASR said.

As for trainee placements, there were 90 recorded for local government – up from 60 in 2011/12 and 57 in 2010/11. The vast majority of placements (92.9%) continue to be offered by private practice, however.

The overall figures for the profession show there were 127,676 PC holders linked to a named organisation at the cut-off date. This is down 0.9% on the previous year (the first fall for 20-plus years). The number of private practices registered is meanwhile at its lowest level since a change in 2007 to the way in which firms were counted for the research.

The review pointed out that the total number of PC holders had almost tripled since the current statistical series began in 1983, but rates of growth had slowed since the late 1990s.

The long-term trend is of growth in the in-house sector, but principally in commerce and industry (11.6% of PC holders).

Other findings in the ASR for 2013 included that younger solicitors were more likely to be female - for those aged 35 and under, women represented around six in 10 PC holders. Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups also continued to represent a growing proportion of PC holders (13.1% of PC holders).

Philip Thomson, President of Lawyers in Local Government, said: "The improved diversity in the profession is welcome, particularly in local government. And it is heartening to see that legal departments are still managing to invest in the future with the increase in trainee solicitor positions. But, although not picked up by the Law Society's report, it is unfortunate that many authorities are seeking to save costs by shedding their most senior lawyers.

"As LLG Communications Officer, Nicholas Dobson, pointed out in his recent blog article, Death by Spreadsheet - Local Government Brain Drain, those that do are losing vital corporate knowledge, experience, instinct and organisational memory.'