The number of law-firm partners has fallen in the UK for the first time since the start of the recession according to a survey by accountancy and advisory firm Wilkins Kennedy.
The survey revealed that the number of partner roles available to lawyers in the UK fell in the year to 30 June 2012 to 33,662, a fall of 153.
The fall is more remarkable because the number had grown by 689 last year and by 1,466 in 2009/10.
It is thought the fall in jobs reflects a wider uncertainty with the current economic outlook but may also be due to uncertainty created in the legal sector by the advent of Alternative Business Structures introduced by the Legal Services Act, or 'Tesco Law'.
The Legal Services Act 2007 came into force on 6 October 2011, with the first three firms approved to operate by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in March this year. The legislation allows non-lawyers for the first time to sell legal services, effectively opening the market up to supermarkets and other businesses.
It is hoped that the changes will boost competition within the sector and bring technology and business processes from other successful consumer industries into the legal services sector.
Tommy White is a partner at Wilkins Kennedy.
"It's understandable that firms are reluctant to promote lawyers who don't already have a track record of bringing in income," he told The Financial Times.
"If the associates don't look like they will be able to add to the profit pool, the partners are essentially being asked to dilute their own income," he added.
White believes that the news that fewer partner jobs are coming available is fuelling the current trend amongst young lawyers to consider positions as in-house lawyer in a private company.
"Leaving private practice may be the best way to avoid the bottleneck," he added.
Ranks of law-firm partners in UK shrinks (The Financial Times - free signup)