Types of law firm and the effects of the internet

The Law Society Annual Statistics Report 2016 describes the size and composition of the solicitors’ profession and describes trends in entry to the profession. At July 2016 there were over 136,00 practising solicitors in England and Wales and 9,430 private practice firms registered.

Law firms in England & Wales are generally categorised by region and size.

London (“City”) law firms offer services mainly in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions and financial services.

The five firms with the highest reputation and highest profits per partner are referred to as the “Magic Circle”, comprising Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May.

The next tier of large commercial practices with slightly lower profits per partner are often referred to as the “Silver Circle”. London is also home to many mid-tier and smaller commercial firms.

Further, there are also many US-based law firms with offices in London – over 40 with revenues over US$50 million.

Other important large firms are the national law firms with offices around the UK, often including one in London. They have a broad range of clients, including public sector bodies, government departments, universities, local authorities, companies and financial institutions. Examples include Bond Dickinson, DWF, Irwin Mitchell and Mills & Reeve..

Regional law firms, those associated with a particular geographical region, are generally smaller and less profitable than City and national firms, but significantly larger and more profitable than local firms.

The smallest, local law firms, often referred to as “High Street” law firms, usually have a single office and have traditionally offered a mix of family, conveyancing, criminal and private client services, though, with increasing competitive pressures, these are a dying breed.

Of increasing prevalence, particularly since the advent of the internet, are the niche law firms who specialise in a particular field of law. Fields with many active specialist firms are online conveyancing services and injury claims solicitors such as Aston Knight Solicitors.

Other examples include firms offering motoring defence services, flight delay and holiday compensation, and immigration services, as well as niches for business clients like intellectual property.

The internet has also given birth to what is often called the virtual law firm, which operates largely without physical premises, and what could be called the dispersed law firm, essentially networks of freelance solicitors.