The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has today published its annual reports on its operational work during 2019/20. The reports highlight a £65 million rise in combined law firm turnover across Wales over the past five years.
Key facts highlighted within these reports include:
- £10.4 million was paid out from the Compensation Fund, up £2.9 million from 2018/19, with the average payout around £28,000.
- There continues to be year-on-year increase in the number of solicitors qualifying through apprenticeships, firms offering recognised training and solicitors gaining higher rights of audience qualifications.
- The continued growth of the legal sector in Wales, with Welsh firms now accounting for a combined turnover of over £435 million, up from £370 million five years ago.
The reports also cover areas such as education and training, preventing money laundering, authorisation and enforcement.
Regulation in Wales
In its ‘Authorising the Profession‘ report, the SRA states there are 4003 practising solicitors and 420 ‘head offices’ based in Wales in 2019/20 (the latter is an estimate figure due to cross-border working). Around 4% of all law firms have head offices in Wales. Around one-quarter of Wales-based firms and practising certificate holders work in Cardiff.
Wales-based law firms ‘continued to thrive in 2019/20’. Their turnover came to £435m in 2019/20, from £370m in 2014/15.
Liz Withers, SRA Head of Welsh Affairs, said:
“Our report shows that the legal sector in Wales is growing, with turnover increasing significantly over the last five years.
“Access to high quality legal services is important for the public and for businesses, giving them more choice so they can find the help they need when they need it. From the high street solicitor to Cardiff’s big commercial firms, a thriving legal sector benefits everyone.”
The report states that 776 practising certificates were issued in Welsh last year, up slightly from 762 in 2014/15. This may be harder to analyse going forwards as the SRA report notes:
‘In 2020 and as part of our major IT programme, we now issue all our practising certificates in both Welsh and English as a matter of course, making sure we treat both languages equally and that solicitors do not have to request a certificate in Welsh or answer a question on whether they speak Welsh’.
In June 2021, the SRA announced the appointment of Liz Withers as the regulator’s first Head of Welsh Affairs, stating its ‘clear commitment’ to the legal sector in Wales which, it noted, has a ‘changing’ landscape.
Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA Board, said:
Publishing this suite of annual reviews is an important part of our ongoing commitment to transparency and accountability. Last year was difficult for everyone, and I’m pleased that our reports show that both the SRA and the profession rose to the challenge, adapting to new ways of working, maintaining performance and services and showing real resilience in the face of the pandemic.”
She added: “Since we published our last set of reviews, we have made significant progress in many areas, not least the work now well underway to understand and address what may lie behind the overrepresentation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors, and men, in our enforcement processes. Our 2019/20 Upholding Professional Standards report again confirms the historic trends we have already seen and reaffirms how important it is that we continue to push on with this work as quickly as possible.”
Enforcement: Diversity characteristics published
The SRA’s Upholding Standards Report, which covers its enforcement work, includes a review of the diversity characteristics of solicitors involved in the SRA’s enforcement processes, alongside a supporting report setting out the detail.
Findings in this area for 2019/20 were in line with a similar analysis for 2018/19 published last December, and again shows an over representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors, and men, in both concerns raised with the SRA and investigated, when compared with the diversity of the profession as a whole.
The SRA has committed to commissioning independent research into the societal and structural factors that may be driving the overrepresentation in reports made to it, as well as reviewing its own decision making and working to improve diversity data collection.