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UK Legal Services Market 2012

01.04.2012

UK Legal Services Market:

MODEST MARKET GROWTH IN 2012 WITH NEW BUSINESS MODELS CHANGING THE UK LEGAL MARKET LANDSCAPE

The UK Legal Services Market Report from IRN Research provides a market review of the UK legal services market, a market that is experiencing fundamental changes as new legal suppliers enter the market, some existing players change their operating and business models, and new ways of delivering and using legal services emerge.

The UK legal services market (including private practice firms, barristers, patent agents, and other legal professionals) was valued at almost £26bn in 2010 and annual growth of 5% signalled a recovery after declining sales in 2009. In 2011, market growth is expected again but at a lower rate than 2010.

Underlying this overall growth rate there are clear differences between the fortunes of the top 100 or so law firms and the long tail of 10,000-plus law firms and solicitors that make up the rest of the market. Most of the top firms are out-performing the market overall in terms of revenue and profits growth while lower down the market many medium and smaller law firms are struggling to grow revenues significantly and are working on low margins.

While changes in the market place are predicted to reduce the number of law firms and solicitors operating in the market, there are no signs of this yet. The number of law firms in the UK is still growing and the number of practising solicitors has been rising year-on-year for the last five years and the overwhelming majority of these are still based in private practice. However, solicitor numbers are growing at the fastest rate outside private practice and most notably in in-house corporate legal departments. Also increasing very rapidly is the number of paralegals employed in law firms.

The period 2011-2012 is likely to be remembered as the period when the transformation of the UK legal services market gathered pace. For some years, there have been competitors to traditional law firms offering legal services but the number of competitors is likely to increase led by the arrival of Alternative Business Structures (ABS). From January 2012, these allow non-lawyers to invest in law firms in England and Wales. Initially, the number of businesses applying to become ABS is small but more are likely to come forward in the next year or so.

Alongside ABS, other legal service models are appearing such as white-label legal services from organisations such as the AA and Saga in conjunction with law firms, branded franchise networks of high street law firms, and DIY online legal services.

Generally it is expected that it will be the smaller and medium-sized law firms that face the most threat from these new supplies and particular those that operate general practices covering various practice areas. Areas such as conveyancing, wills, divorce are high-volume, low margin sectors that involve a large amount of routine legal processing. So these areas offer opportunities for commoditisation and economies of scale and appeal to some of the new larger players entering the market. Volume suppliers of these services amongst law firms are also doing well so smaller law firms are fighting for a reduced share of the market.

Other issues likely to have an impact on the market in the coming months include: new compliance demands on law firms and solicitors from a new regulatory regime (Outcomes-focused regulations) introduced in October 2011; the proposed ban on referral fees; a reduction in funding for legal aid.

The full report, The UK Legal Services Market 2011 (54pp, PDF), is available directly from IRN Research, priced at £350/€420/US$550.

The report has sections for industry overview, market sizes and trends, market segmentation, key issues in the market, key players, PEST analysis, research on client preferences for legal fees and law firm concerns, market forecasts for 2012 and 2013. Click here for press release and contents