Executive Summary

Introduction

The 2019 Law Society of Scotland Financial Benchmarking Survey findings provide an indication of the health of Scotland's legal sector. The survey, which took place between February and April this year, retained the streamlined format of the 2018 online questionnaire, and was once again administered by technology systems and services provider Tribal.

In addition to the full report, participating firms can access their own interactive report. We are confident that the firms which took part will find the confidential, online reporting helpful in ensuring that their business is sustainable and efficient while continuing to offer clients a great service.

Participants are able to analyse trends for their firm, competitors and of the profession generally. Within this executive summary, reference has been made to the previous year's Financial Benchmarking Survey and, where appropriate, the previous Cost of Time survey results to identify year on year trends.

The interactive report includes the ability to view and compare:

  • income and costs by the size or location of a firm
  • a breakdown of the firm’s total costs
  • cashflow management
  • the relationships between the different results, for example, plotting staff costs against profitability.

Firms were invited to participate in the survey via online or paper questionnaire. 58 firms completed the questionnaire, representing 5% of firms in Scotland. This was a lower participation rate than for 2018. Nevertheless, the sample size allows for conclusions to be drawn for many metrics, and we saw consistent trends emerging for some metrics since the survey was relaunched in 2017. The sample is self-selecting which may introduce bias into the results that is not directly quantifiable. Highest participation rates were seen in sole practitioners and 2-4 partner firms; there was relative under-participation from 5-9 and 10+ partner firms.

Overall Totals

  • Total fee income – £51 million. £26 million was recorded for court work and £1.6 million was legal aid (civil and criminal).

Key Findings

Of the participating firms, total firm income per partner was slightly lower in this year's survey than in the 2018 survey for firms in all regions. This effect was particularly pronounced for Glasgow firms and for Edinburgh firms. Median total income per partner decreased from £270,500 to £234,562 for Glasgow firms, and from £319,231 to £229,976 for Edinburgh firms. For firms in Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth, and the Country region, the drop was minimal.

Median profit per partner increased for firms in Aberdeen Dundee and Perth, and firms in Glasgow (from £107,103 to £148,000 for Glasgow firms). Median profit per partner decreased slightly between the two years for Edinburgh firms and for Country firms.

Salaries as a percentage of income increased between 2017 and 2018 for firms in all regions except Glasgow.

Income per fee earner FTE remained relatively consistent across the regions; as in previous years it appears challenging to push this figure above £200,000, although firms in Glasgow (median result of £216,028) and firms in Edinburgh (median result of £215,709) have done so.

Legal aid income per partner continued to fall. This trend suggests that firms continue to find it increasingly difficult, from a financial perspective, to justify undertaking legal aid work.

Profitability

  • Overall profitability at a median of £76,000 per partner was in line with the 2018 result, and £7,000 higher than the result from 2017. Within this, profitability was highest for Glasgow firms; this was consistent with the 2018 result.
  • Once again, the profitability of firms in Scotland is lower than the rest of the UK. The RBS 2019 Financial Benchmarking survey indicates median profit per equity partner of £128,000.
  • Profit is before any allowance for equity partners drawings, and before tax.

Aberdeen, Dundee & Perth

  • Median profit per partner for firms in Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth was £91,175, an increase on the 2017 result of £74,082 and the 2018 result of £76,143. The median profit margin for firms in Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth was 43.9%; this figure has risen consistently since 2017, when the result was 37.7%. During the period 2017-2019, total income per partner fell from £178,721 to £165,574. So firms in Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth appear to be managing costs in such a way as to increase profits in the face of falling total income per partner.

Glasgow

  • Median profit per partner for Glasgow firms was £148,000, representing a significant 38% increase on 2018’s result of £107,103. Interestingly, median total income per partner fell from £270,500 in 2018 to £234,262 in 2019. Salaries as a percentage of total income fell between 2018 and 2019, from 33.4% to 22.4%. It appears Glasgow firms are managing pay costs effectively in order to increase profit levels.
  • Capital per partner at £114,818 continued an upward trend since the 2017 result of £60,583.

Edinburgh

  • Median profit per partner was £81,963, a small decrease of 6% on 2018's result.
  • Total income per partner fell more dramatically between 2018 and 2019, from £319,231 to £229,976.
  • Salaries as a percentage of total income rose from 32% in 2018 to 35.9% in 2019. Despite this increase, salaries were reasonably well controlled, which meant the drop in total income per partner did not lead to a commensurate drop in profit per partner.

Country

  • Between 2017 and 2019, the median profit per partner for Country firms remained very consistent, between £65,000 and £70,000 per partner. The 2019 result was £65,974.
  • Total income per partner also remained consistent between 2018 and 2019; the 2019 median was £239,598.
  • Between 2017 and 2019, median capital per partner fell from £67,183 to £49,515.
  • Salaries as a percentage of total income also remained consistent between 2017 and 2019 at around 34%.
  • Overall, results for Country firms were the most consistent of all the regions in the period 2017-2019.