Tough trading slows partner promotion rate at law firms

Marion Dakers
THE NUMBER of partners in English and Welsh law firms has dropped for the first time since the depths of the financial crisis, research out today claims.

A net 153 partnership roles disappeared in the year to the end of June, after two years in which more than a 1,000 net partner positions were added, according to figures released by Wilkins Kennedy.

There are an estimated 32,000 partners in England and Wales.

The overall number of lawyers has slowly risen since 2009, with almost 125,000 practising solicitors at the end of May, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) says.

But partners have begun to trail behind for the first time in three years, as promotions are put on hold amid tough trading conditions and mergers across the industry, Wilkins Kennedy partner Tommy White explains.

“Given the state of the economy and its impact on the profitability of some law firms, it’s understandable that firms are reluctant to promote lawyers who don’t already have a track record of bringing in income,” he said.

“Of course, it is more challenging for non-partners to bring in new fees during the recession, meaning that ‘proving yourself’ is tougher than ever before.”

White added that older partners are staying in work longer in order to fund their retirement, blocking the way for new partner promotions.

The SRA’s latest figures show that more than 1,000 firms opened in the last year, while 344 closed.