01 Age Age isn’t problematic in the industry – for the most part

The proportion of lawyers in different age groups reflect typical career progression in law firms. The average age of lawyers is between 25-44, although career advancement is now taking longer.

23-34-year olds make up the largest proportion of lawyers

Over the past six years, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has found that the ages of employees at law firms roughly correspond with the natural career progression within the industry. In 2017, their survey found that most lawyers are between 25 and 44, with the largest cohort being 25-34 years of age.

The proportion of 25-34-year olds has fluctuated over the years, with 2014 seeing them make up 46% of the law workforce, and this dropping to 32% in 2015 – and then rising and falling again in 2017 and 2019 respectively. In 2019, 25-34-year olds accounted for 30% of all staff in law firms, but this is lower than the general UK workforce, where 25-49 year olds accounted for 59% of the working population in the same year.

Rise and fall of % 25-34 year olds in law firms

The age of partners in law firms is rising

It’s interesting to note the changes in age when you look at partners in law firms. While it’s not surprising that the older generations dominate the senior positions (the largest age group for partners in 2019 was 45-54 at 36%), it’s taking longer for lawyers to work their way up to partner level. In 2014, 45-54-year olds were the largest group with partner status, followed closely by 35-44-year olds. By 2019, far fewer 35-44-year olds had partner status. In fact, all younger age groups saw a drop in numbers, while ages 45+ all saw increases in the number of people being made partners in their firms.

While these numbers suggest career advancement is getting more and more difficult – with solicitors needing to spend longer in firms before being appointed as partner – they may also hide some discriminatory behaviour in the industry. Several stories have come out in the press about solicitors winning age discrimination claims against their prospective or current employers, with senior solicitors claiming that they were denied the job because they were deemed to be “too experienced” for the role.

Comparing age of partners in 2014 vs 2019

Age discrimination cases are dropping

While age discrimination continues to be an issue experienced by staff in law firms, the situation on a nation-wide level is more positive. Quarterly figures from employment tribunals show that age discrimination cases made up around 3% of total cases in 2020. Looking at the latest available figures for 2020 (the January to March period) and comparing this to the same period in previous years shows that this represents steady drop. 9% in 2016, 6% in 2017 and 2% in both 2018 and 2019. Notwithstanding a whopping 17% spike in 2015, it’s heartening to see that age is becoming less and less of an issue when it comes to employee discrimination.

That said, it’s important to continue to take age fairness seriously, and ensure that it isn’t a deciding factor in the recruitment process, in employment terms and conditions, or when it comes to promotions or dismissals in firms.

Age discrimination cases at employment tribunals

Diversify recruiting practices and invest in your people – ensuring they progress to management and partnership positions in a timely manner.

Chikere Igbokwe

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