New study reveals impact of downturn on legal services sector

A new study reveals the severe impact the downturn has had on solicitors’ practices. In addition, it identifies the vital economic contribution of the sector to the economy at national and local levels.

Law Society Director General Ken Murphy said, “We commissioned the leading economic consultancy firm Fitzpatrick Associates to examine existing data from authoritative sources such as the Central Statistics Office and the World Bank.  For the first time in Ireland, we are able to go beyond anecdote into hard evidence - and the conclusions are stark.”

“The report clearly demonstrates the solicitors’ profession has not been sheltered from the economic downturn. For example, the evidence shows that the legal services sector experienced greater declines in gross value added (GVA)* than the accounting, real estate and telecommunications sectors between 2008 and 2012.”

  • Gross incomes for self-employed solicitors fell by 43% over the period 2007 to 2012. The greatest declines were outside Dublin; the Border, Midlands and Western region saw incomes fall by as much as 53%.
  • Between 2008 and 2012 employee numbers engaged in the legal sector fell by 21%.
  • Personnel costs and wages and salaries fell by 20% between 2008 and 2012.
  • There was a five-fold increase in the number of legal professionals receiving unemployment benefit or assistance between 2006 and 2009, while the 2014 numbers remain three times higher than they were in 2006.

The study also examines the sector’s hugely significant contribution to the Irish economy at both the national and local level.

Mr Murphy said, “The report shows that the solicitors’ profession makes an enormous and very positive contribution. At a national level, solicitors facilitate economic activity and development. At a regional level we create employment and support local businesses and communities.”

  • The legal services sector, of which solicitors make up around 70% of professional practitioners, had 18,000 persons engaged in 2014 and is expected to contribute €1.46bn in GVA to the Irish economy this year.
  • The sector is second only to telecommunications in terms of overall direct contribution to economic output among key service sectors examined.
  • More people are engaged in legal services than the engineering or telecommunications sectors.

Concluding, Mr Murphy said, “While we are starting to see signs of an economic recovery, this is patchy and is being experienced very differently by different segments of the solicitors’ profession. Generally speaking, larger firms in larger economic centres are seeing a greater degree of economic recovery. However, smaller firms, particularly in rural areas, are experiencing very little economic bounce, if any.”

Currently, the Irish solicitors’ profession consists of 9,226 practising solicitors, operating out of 2,176 law firms.

Please see 'The Solicitors’ Profession: Contribution to the Irish Economy'.


*Gross Value Added (GVA) is the standard measure of a sector’s contribution to economic output. In basic terms, it comprises what a sector sells minus what it purchases - this usually equals profits plus wages.

Fitzpatrick Associates is one of Ireland's leading economic, socio-economic and public policy consultancies. Established in 1983, the firm has become one of the most important independent groups of economic advisers to government, non-government organisations and companies in Ireland and in a number of other EU Member States and Accession Countries.