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Are There Too Many Solicitors?

‘Now we have more lawyers than police’, thunders the Daily Mail headline (4 April), as if there is any relationship between lawyer and police numbers. A better benchmark would be the volume of Parliamentary legislation. Only a small minority of lawyers work in criminal law.

Doubtless the Daily Mail dislikes lawyers, who get a bad press generally. But research consistently shows that around 90% of people with recent experience of a lawyer rate ‘their’ lawyer very highly.

Is there a problem? Since 1985, the number of practising solicitors has grown from 47,000 to 118,000. Every year the number of solicitors has gone up. Jack Straw, as Justice Secretary, calculated that there was one lawyer for every 401 people.

I suggest there are now too many solicitors, for three reasons:

First, some solicitors are overqualified for what they do. Professor Stephen Mayson, a former City partner turned analyst suggests that many are employed in what are really paralegal roles, “probably doing things that happen in law firms but don’t need to be done by legally-qualified”.

Secondly, the increase in solicitor numbers has been at the expense of quality. I see CVs from graduates looking for a training contract whose poor ‘A’ level grades mean they could never consider a career as a doctor or a vet. The failure rate for students who can afford to do the vocational Legal Practice Course (‘LPC’) is low. And almost anyone who passes the LPC can find a training contract and qualify as a solicitor, according to analysis in The Law Society Gazette (‘At the end of the line?’ 31 March 2011).

Thirdly, when the Legal Services Act 2007 comes into force in October, it is likely that some clients will buy legal services from paralegals at a household brand, such as the Co-op or Halifax, rather than from a ‘solicitor’. This would make some qualified solicitors redundant.

The Law Society should start concentrating on raising standards, rather than increasing ‘accessibility’ and making it easier to qualify as a solicitor.

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