Finance

Law profession 'holds steady' against Covid-19



The majority of private practice firms in Scotland have overcome the negative economic impact of the pandemic, according to Law Society of Scotland.

Its survey of Scottish private practice legal firms, undertaken 11 months on from the last survey, shows that staffing and workloads have largely returned to pre-pandemic levels for most firms and, in some instances, increased.

The research, which was conducted in September 2021, found that 95% of firms had no solicitors on furlough and 81% also had no support staff members left on furlough.

This compares to 35% of all solicitors and 41% of all support staff being placed on furlough at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.

Of those firms who had solicitors or support staff on furlough, almost all indicated their intention to have all staff back to work once the furlough scheme ended on 30 September 2021 – with just one of the firms surveyed considering staff redundancy.

The pandemic has not significantly impacted firms’ recruitment plans, with 59% of respondents saying they intend to keep their solicitor staff numbers at their existing levels over the next 12 months, while 24% of firms plan to increase their solicitor staff numbers in the next year.

No firms said they would decrease solicitor staff.

In addition, 65% of firms plan to keep support staff levels the same, while a fifth intend to increase the number of support staff that they employ in the coming year.

On trainee recruitment, almost two thirds of firms said they do not plan to change their trainee numbers in the next 12 months, although a majority of these firms do not normally recruit trainees.

This finding is consistent with the society’s December 2020 survey. However, almost one in five firms surveyed plan to increase their trainee recruitment next year.

Almost half of firms (49%) reported that their workload has increased or significantly increased compared to pre-pandemic levels.

While 27% of firms reported a reduced or much reduced workload, this is a marked improvement on October 2020, when half of all firms reported decreased or significantly decreased workloads.

The majority of firms surveyed were also positive about future workloads, with 46% expecting workloads to remain the same in the coming year and 44% predicting an increase in work. Just 10% of firms predict their workloads will fall.

Likewise, firms gave positive responses for their anticipated turnover in the next 12 months, reflecting a clear shift in confidence compared to October 2020, when 44% of firms were predicting a fall in income and subsequent turnover in the coming year.

Meanwhile, new ways of working have embedded themselves into firms, with two thirds saying they will implement or continue with hybrid working arrangements and almost one fifth saying they will implement home working for at least some of their staff.

Ken Dalling, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The results of the latest survey of private practice firms are very encouraging and indicate how well the profession has managed to adapt throughout the pandemic – to survive and, in some cases, to thrive.

“Despite a gradual return to normal life, Covid-19 remains a serious risk to society and the economy, and we must keep this in mind – we cannot ignore the crisis that the legal aid sector is in, with the pandemic exacerbating an already difficult situation.

“While it is encouraging to hear that many firms have seen work levels increase and that they are positive about the future, we fully understand that this is not the situation that all firms are in.”

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