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Legal Services: A Time of Change

Four in ten solicitor-led firms in England and Wales provide advice and expertise in the area of wills, trusts, probate and estate administration, according to new research conducted by the Ministry of Justice, the Legal Services Board (LSB) and the Law Society.

The report entitled "A time of change: solicitors' firms in England and Wales" provides insight into the supply of legal services in the context of recession, market changes and regulatory and legal aid reforms. It looked into the activities of legal providers, how they perform and structure themselves and what challenges they face by surveying a sample of 2,007 solicitors' firms.

The research reveals that residential property is the most common area of work eg. conveyancing provided by 48% of the respondents. It also found that just over a quarter (27%) conduct at least 90% of their activities in a single category of work.

Of the sample, 19% were new within the past three years and half of those were single solicitor firms. The vast majority (87%) of firms outsourced at least one external or internal activity.

Compliance with regulation is the most common problem, reported by 29% of the respondents, followed by competition challenges (23%), adapting to changes in legal aid (23%) and securing finance (21%). A total of 6% of firms are considering seeking external investment under ABS status.

When asked about their financial performance, 42% of firms reported a drop in their turnover in the past three years while 32% had seen turnover increase and 27% reported no change.

The findings confirm the diversity of firms in terms of their financial performance, the range of things they do for different consumers and the fact that they mix up different market segments. The report also shows that huge competition exists in the legal services market and that a significant proportion of market players are performing well despite the economic challenges, LSB chief executive Chris Kenny commented.