New survey shows strong business confidence in legal sector

Small and medium sized law firms saw a strong first quarter in 2021, with around half seeing an increase in the number of new matters, chargeable hours recorded and fees billed, the Law Society of England and Wales said as it published the Law Management Section’s first Quarterly Pulse Survey.

The survey provides a timely barometer of business conditions for small and medium sized businesses, reporting on changes in a series of legal business metrics from the previous quarter. This is a critical insight on progress the legal sector is making as we emerge from the pandemic.

Paul Bennett, chair of the Law Management Section, said: “Our new pulse survey is intended to support the profession with some detailed data collection on current issues every quarter. We are delighted with the level of response and would encourage even more firms to participate next time to help us grow the survey, so they have the chance to help shape the knowledge of the current issues.”

• Expenditure had increased for 29% of respondents, remained broadly the same for 57% of firms and decreased for 14% of firms
• Only 4% of firms reported redundancies in the first quarter of 2021
• Headcount of fee-earners had increased for 23% of firms, slightly ahead of the 15% of firms increasing their support staff headcount
• Of firms with physical premises, 15% had reduced their office space and a further 10% anticipated a reduction in the next quarter
• The number of new matters starts in conveyancing had increased 54% for firms working in this practice area
• Two-fifths of firms had reported a better cash position compared to the previous quarter, one fifth reported a worse position
• Of the 148 firms taking out a CBILS loan, just under half had used the loan
On the back of difficult operating conditions due to the pandemic, business confidence is strong with 52% of firms predicting an improvement in firm’s fees and 46% predicting an improvement in firm’s profitability.

Commonly cited challenges for the next year were wider economic conditions (46%) and cashflow (39%), followed by succession planning (36%) and changing employee working arrangements (34%).

Darren Cable, UK head of legal at Lloyds Bank, added:

“It is great to see that the Law Management Section have developed this pulse survey, which provides a vital snap shot of the business conditions for small and medium sized firms.

“The impact of the pandemic has meant that many of the traditional norms have been challenged and the economic outlook has remained uncertain. Firms will need to adapt to these new conditions and our team of Lexcel-trained industry experts continue to work closely with businesses across the legal profession, providing the funding and tailored support to help them look forward to a brighter future and help Britain recover.”

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