What geographical areas do law firms serve?

The geographic regions where authorised persons were located in 2010 is shown below. The first table shows the figures for all authorised persons, and the second table shows  the figures for those authorised persons working at the same location as solicitors offering legal services to the public1.

Breakdown of Authorised Persons in Legal Practice

Costs LawyersNotary & ScrivenerTrademark attorneyPatent attorneyConveyancersSelf Employed BarristersEmployed BarristersILEXSolicitor
Birmingham4%8%5%3%6%6%6%11%7%
Brighton9%14%7%8%14%2%3%8%5%
Bristol3%10%8%7%7%6%4%13%6%
Cambridge24%10%10%14%14%17%12%10%5%
Cardiff6%4%1%1%5%2%1%4%4%
Leeds4%7%7%6%11%6%3%10%7%
Liverpool4%2%2%2%3%4%1%3%2%
London22%22%42%36%12%46%54%12%42%
Manchester10%7%5%4%9%8%4%9%9%
Newcastle1%2%1%1%1%2%2%3%2%
Nottingham5%6%4%5%11%2%3%9%4%
Reading7%9%8%12%7%1%7%8%5%
Unclassified10%12%12%8%10%1%2%14%4%

Breakdown of Authorised Persons in Legal Practice with Solicitors

Costs LawyersNotary & ScrivenerTrademark attorneyPatent attorneyConveyancersEmployed BarristersILEXSolicitor
Birmingham3%7%1%3%5%6%10%7%
Brighton3%13%4%5%14%3%8%5%
Bristol3%10%4%5%7%4%13%6%
Cambridge6%10%8%15%11%12%10%5%
Cardiff6%3%2%1%4%1%4%3%
Leeds9%6%9%11%11%3%9%7%
Liverpool6%2%1%0%4%1%3%2%
London37%19%61%42%13%53%11%41%
Manchester14%7%7%5%8%4%8%8%
Newcastle0%2%1%1%1%2%3%2%
Nottingham6%6%2%2%10%3%8%4%
Reading6%9%1%10%7%6%7%5%
Unclassified3%6%0%0%6%2%6%4%

Unsurprisingly London dominates all professions.  However the regional spread of conveyancers and legal  executives is far more balanced when compared to the other professions. Authorised persons do operate overseas, with around 6000 solicitors working abroad2.

Royal Mail postcode Classification

Costs LawyersNotary & ScrivenersTrademark AttorneyPatent AttorneyConveyancersSelf Employed BarristersEmployed BarristersILEXSolicitors
Suburban31%17%11%12%20%2%6%13%9%
Rural13%10%4%8%12%0%5%6%4%
Urban27%46%30%34%47%33%28%57%41%
London24%22%44%38%13%63%46%11%40%
Postcode unclassified6%4%10%8%8%3%14%12%5%

Matching 2010 regulatory data with Royal Mail postcode areas, shows that areas classified as urban and London had the largest concentration of authorised persons. There was some differences between different types of authorised person, with 32% of conveyancers based in rural or suburban areas, compared to 13% of solicitors.3 Looking accross categories of law practiced, London had the largest concentration of authorised  persons in all categories of work. For example  52% of authorised persons offering finance and business services were based in London, compared to just 2% in Newcastle.4 However, there is a high concentration of authorised persons offering accident or injury services in Manchester.

While an organisation may be physically located within a locale, the geographic range of its service provision may differ. One piece of research that looked specifically at the geographic specificity of service provision for legal aid firms found that 70% of solicitors legal practices provide services wider than their local neighbourhood5. This is supported by evidence of solicitors undertaking work on a far wider geographical basis, with a report of a Suffolk based firm taking on consumers from London.6

Not for ProfitPrivate PracticeStautoryAll
Local Neighbourhood31%31%8%29%
Borough, District, or Unitary Council7%12%40%20%
County Council15%15%34%16%
Region14%22%11%17%
Multiregion3%10%3%6%
England2%4%0%3%
Wales0%1%0%1%
England plus Wales0%2%0%1%
Other9%3%5%5%

Other research focusing on geographic location suggests that 79% of the general population live within 2 miles of a solicitor and 59% live within two miles of a CAB.7

Analysis of travel patterns of self-employed barristers in delivering family legal aid advocacy identifies key travel routes of counsel, with London being the main hub. The other key routes highlighted are Birmingham to Herefordshire and Worcester, Greater Nottingham to Lincoln, Bristol to Gloucester, Chester to North Wales, Manchester to West Lancashire and Devon to Cornwall. In terms of travel time the median travel time for counsel was 1.77 hours per hearing. This analysis found no distinction between the average travel time claimed in different categories of family law, nor in different types of hearing.8

The review found no information on the geographical areas served by other authorised persons.

Factors associated with location of a legal practice

We undertook a simple analysis of the 2010 data on location of authorised persons. This found that, looking at reserved legal services as a whole, the following factors have some influence9 on the location of a legal practice in 2010:

Population

 

The chart above shows the relationship between the actual level of population and the number of legal firms in a local authority10. The three outliers with low levels of population and high numbers of legal firms are Westminster, Camden, and City of London, reflecting the prevalence of legal firms serving businesses as opposed to the general public, with law firms based in close proximity to other businesses. A correlation coefficient of 0.62 between the number of notaries and scriveners, who provide services for businesses and trade, supports this interpretation. Other outliers with large number of law firms are Leeds, Birmingham and Cardiff – large cities with big populations. The two outliers with larger populations and less legal firms than trend are Sandwell and Durham. There was a lower correlation between population density measured by the number of people per hectare 0.48.

Levels of incidence of a legal problem

The levels of incidence of a legal problem do have a positive correlation between the number of legal firms per local authority. This suggests that the location is influenced by demand for services, as we would expect. In line with the findings of the Civil and Social Justice Survey11, there is a strong positive correlation between the number of law firms and the level of victims of crime (0.76), and the level of lone parent households (0.71). The correlations between income support claimants, rented housing tenure, and unemployment are also in line with the survey findings.

 Number of legal firms and courts

The number of courts in a local authority has a limited relationship to the number of legal firms, with a correlation coefficient of 0.52.This is likely to be higher for specific areas of law such as Crime, but underlines the range of legal services being delivered outside of the courts.

Other areas

There is little correlation between the number of unreserved legal firms and reserved legal firm by local authority, with the correlation coefficient between the number of will writers in a local authority being just 0.31 and Citizens Advice being just 0.14.

An area where there is some correlation, is those variables related to personal injury and clinical negligence. The number of legal firms has a strong positive correlation with the number of Road Traffic Accidents (0.67) and with the number of Claims Management Companies – the main intermediaries in personal injury- (0.58).

Further, there may be reputational factors at play with the location of a legal practice. One report looking at city firms found that: “The importance of location is somewhat curious especially given that many city firms stress the number of international clients that they have and therefore for whom the actual physical location of firms would seem less relevant. Nonetheless interviewees stress that there is a key business area in most capital cities (the areas described above for the UK) where clients expect their legal advisers to be located12“.

Further work is needed to establish the extent to which some of these factors are cross correlated, and more in depth analysis is required.

Looking at conveyancing in more depth, we can use the total number of property transactions – information published by HM Revenue & Customs.13 We have to make an assumption that the volume of conveyancing transactions undertaken by non lawyers is broadly consistent across each local authority.14 As can be seen in the chart on below, when considered at this level, the number of authorised persons offering conveyancing services bears only a limited relationship to the number of conveyancing transactions within a local authority.

 

The chart below shows the distribution of the average number of property transactions per authorised persons offering conveyancing, at local authority level.15 Using Land Registry data we can match 83% of the volume of conveyancing transactions to postcodes in the data platform. Of this sample of 575,229 conveyancing transactions, 95% are undertaken by  solicitor legal practices. The remaining postcodes could be work undertaken in offices not registered with the regulators, or conveyancing transactions undertaken by non-lawyer conveyancers.

Combining this data shows no correlation between the average price per transaction and the volume of property transactions, or with the number of firms offering conveyancing services at a local authority level (with a correlation coefficient of 0.1 and 0.4 respectively). However this simple analysis does not account for any difference for buyers and sellers, or sales that fall through – estimated at a rate of around 1 in 316.

Combined these observations point to conveyancing services being provided far more widely than local authority level in 2010.  However, the lack of data which drives the approach means these figures should be treated with caution.


Gaps in service provision

The RIR found very limited information in this area. What is available is limited to:

Provider views:

  • An economic investigation looking at the potential impact of ABS on geographical access, in attempting to identify areas that might be ‘thinly served’, compared the number of solicitors offices with other service outlets – bank branches, post offices, pharmacies, and GP practices. This research also looked ata wide range of survey evidence finding no clear evidence to support a hypothesis that rural areas are less well served than urban areas. The investigation interviewed 15 firms and potential entrants, finding that for a small minority of consumers in these areas who were outside a five mile radius of solicitors offices, ABS impacts on more specialist areas might be more significant, because different firms don’t offer the same categories of law.17
  • Regional summary of gaps in service provision by specific CAB office.18

Indicators of legal need:

  • Data such as unrepresented trade mark applicants19 or use of advisers20, doesn’t allow an understanding of whether individuals chose not to use a legal service provider, or were unable to access services.

There is a significant deficit of understanding as to whether there are gaps in access to legal services, as access can be measured in different dimensions, eg geographical proximity or affordability, and means different things for different types of consumers.


Limited information on the geographical distribution of need

While the RIR found no information on this for other types of consumers, the Civil and Social Justice Survey findings have been used to estimate legal needs. The Legal Services Research Centre shared these estimates with us at a local authority level. Using the Data Platform 2010 the LSB combined supply and demand information for 2010, to allow an estimation of the volume of individuals experiencing a legal problem. That means that areas with greater concentration of lone parents, those aged between 25-34, those with a disability, or those in rented accommodation, will have higher level of legal need in these problem areas.

The greatest match between problem categories is family. This compares the number of authorised persons to the volume of individual with a family legal need, by local authority. This shows a weak correlation between demand and supply, but generally the volume of supply increases as demand increases. This weak correlation may be a result of two factors:

  • Range of other categories of work authorised persons are undertaking.
  • Minimum level of demand required for authorised persons to offer service in this category – a possible minimum efficient scale.

Further work is required to measure the interplay of these factors.

The 2012 consumer survey, using legal need methodology looking at 28 different problem types experienced by individual consumers, provides further data for analysis in this area.