The number of practising solicitors has fallen for the first time in 20 years, according to the latest annual statistics report from the Law Society.
According to the report for 2013, published today, the number of practising certificate (PC) holders linked to a named organisation on 31 July 2013 was 127,676 - 0.9% lower than the previous year.
While the total number of PC holders has almost tripled since the current statistical series began in 1983, rates of growth have slowed since the late 1990s.
However, the long-term trend is one of growth for the in-house sector but principally in commerce and industry (11.6% of all PC holders).
The survey shows that younger solicitors are more likely to be female - for those aged 35 and under, women represented around 60% of PC holders. Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups continue to represent a growing proportion of PC holders (13.1%).
A total of 9,807 private practices were registered in July 2013 - the lowest level recorded since a change was made to the way in which firms are counted in 2007.
Desmond Hudson, the Law Society's chief executive, said: 'Change and competition within the legal sector is intensifying and this is having a major impact on many businesses.
'An improvement in the economy has not yet fed through to all solicitors, and many smaller firms are struggling in the wake of fundamental changes in areas of work such as legal aid, civil justice and family law.'