A total of 58% of solicitors admitted in 2021 were Law Society of Ireland qualifying solicitors, while those who qualified in England and Wales accounted for 32% of the total admissions during the year.
Solicitors from England and Wales had accounted for more than three-quarters of Roll admissions in 2019.
One-fifth of solicitors ‘in-house’
The LSRA says that it expects solicitor numbers to “continue to stabilise” after the Brexit-related increases of recent years.
There were 11,413 solicitors with practising certificates on 31 December 2021 – a decrease of 441 (4%) from 2020, and only the second annual drop in the number of practising certificates since 2009.
Since 2021, the Law Society issues practising certificates only to solicitors who are practising or intending to practise in Ireland, from an establishment based in the jurisdiction
The LSRA notes that around one-fifth of solicitors work in the corporate or public ‘in-house’ sector, while almost 30% of practising solicitors work with a total of 25 employers – mainly large law firms and public-sector bodies.
From July 2020 to June 2021, a total of 96 new firms of solicitors opened, and 76 firms closed.
A total of 180 people were called to the Bar of Ireland by the Chief Justice in 2021 – up 13 from 2020.
In a similar pattern to that observed with solicitors, the number of barristers from England and Wales, and Northern Ireland, dropped to 34 last year from 47 in 2020.
The total number on the Roll of Practising Barristers maintained by the LSRA stood at 2,933 at the end of 2021 – an increase of 110 from the end of 2020.
Of these, almost three-quarters were self-employed private practitioners and members of the Law Library.
Signs of recovery
The LSRA states that 2021 can “in no way” be considered a normal year for numbers and patters of admission to the professions, due to the after-effects of Brexit and the ongoing impact of COVID-19.
Referring to the pandemic, the report says: “Its effect was felt to differing degrees by solicitors and barristers depending on a range of factors including area of practice and, for solicitors, firm size.”
It adds that, by the second quarter of 2021, there were signs of general recovery in employment rates and earnings in the legal profession.
“The year also saw the return of some optimism and confidence among law firms, with the re-emergence of reported staff recruitment and retention challenges among large Dublin law firms.”
Effects of restrictions
The LSRA points out that the curtailment of court business during 2021, due to COVID restrictions, had “an inevitable knock-on impact” on the demand for services of solicitors and barristers, particularly those whose work is largely court-based.
It notes concerns expressed by the Bar of Ireland about the particular impact of restrictions on newly qualified barristers, whose ability to gain in-person court experience has been affected due to the switch to remote hearings.
The report says that training bodies continued their work on professional competencies during the year, with further development by the Law Society of its competency framework for solicitors.
The Bar of Ireland introduced a new competency-based Continuous Professional Development Scheme.