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Why are they leaving, asks North’s Law Soc boss

26 Sep 2022 / employment Print

'Why are they leaving?' asks North’s Law Society boss

Chief executive of the Law Society of Northern Ireland David Lavery has said that the justice system in that jurisdiction is an analogue system operating in a digital age, but the solicitor profession cannot afford to have a digital divide.

The Law Society must align itself with both the challenges and the opportunities ahead, and continuing as it always has in the past is unlikely to be enough, he said speaking at the body’s centenary conference at Belfast’s Hilton Hotel (23 September).

“We have to ask ourselves whether the way we do things today will be good enough to deal with the challenges of the next 15 years, let alone the next 50, ” he said.

A settled way of working may lull the Law Society into thinking that the legal world of today is not that different to 1976 [when the Solicitors (Northern Ireland) Order was enacted], he said.

Too slow to change

After three years as chief executive, Lavery said he had come to the view that the Law Society had been too slow to accept the extent of the changing reality of the legal world.

“Colleagues in Law Society House are all too familiar with hearing me say ’we seem to think it’s still 1976’,” he commented.

Getting ready for 2026 is a vitally important task facing the North’s Law Society, he said.

“We need to ask ourselves why so many newly-qualified solicitors choose to leave private practice,” he continued.

A Hook Tanganza survey, commissioned by the Law Society of Northern Ireland and launched at the conference, showed that almost half of new solicitors leave private practice within five years.

The Law Society of Northern Ireland needs to understand why this is, and how it can do better in terms of retaining talent, he said.


Regulatory action must be proportionate and timely, Lavery also stated.

“There is little point in referring a solicitor to the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal for an infraction of a largely technical nature,” he said. 

“We also need to recognise that disciplinary intervention can be a cause of considerable anxiety and distress for the solicitor concerned, particularly when the process can take years rather than months to complete,” he added.

“We could do more to recognise this reality and to provide support for solicitors who find themselves subject to a disciplinary intervention,” Lavery said.


The Law Society of Northern Ireland was founded on 10 July, 1922 following the partition of Ireland, Lavery explained. 

Until then, the profession was the responsibility of the Law Society of Ireland.

Growth in the last century has been slow and steady, he said, with 6,000 solicitors now on the roll, and half of that number holding a current practising cert. 

70% of trainees are female

Over 70% of legal trainees in the North are now female, and 53% of those working in the profession in the North are women, he said.

Many firms are small, with a solicitor principal who has some employees not in partnership.

A full 52% of firms largely depend on one individual to keep the business running, Lavery said.

The ten largest firms account for over 500 jobs and one quarter of the solicitor economy in the North, he said.

Belfast is also home to more international law firms than any other part of Britain, outside of the city of London.

The legal sector in the North has changed more in the past decade than in the previous 40 years, the chief executive noted.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland