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A letter from one solicitor to another…
Beneficiary Demographics 2016
SBA The Solicitors’ Charity has been collecting data about its beneficiaries for several years, including their gender, age, geographical region, years since qualification and disability. 2016 was the first year in which data was also gathered on racial diversity, professional and practice status. This is the first time all SBA findings have been published.
The percentages shown in this report are drawn from a sample group comprising 167 solicitors, former solicitors and their family members whose application for funding in 2016 was approved.
This sample group does not represent the full range of SBA’s support. There are a further 161 beneficiaries currently in receipt of long-term interest-free loans, as well as 242 individuals supported via LawCare’s invaluable helpline service. The characteristics of these people have not been included in the figures that follow.
Beneficiary Status & Level of Awards
A marketing campaign run in early 2016 to raise awareness of SBA within the profession resulted in a substantial increase in the number of people approaching SBA for the first time. These new applicants accounted for 41% of case-work undertaken in 2016.
Nearly half (45%) of those offered funding were already current beneficiaries. On being invited to renew their applications, their financial circumstances were reviewed and existing awards adjusted from the previous year, where relevant. As long as individuals remain eligible under the financial thresholds, support from SBA can remain in place for extended periods.
The longest continuous SBA award currently in place is for the elderly dependant of a solicitor in the South West, whose only income is £8,141 from statutory benefits. SBA’s support for this particular beneficiary has been in place for 26 years.
A smaller cohort of former beneficiaries (14%) successfully re-applied for funding. These were people who had received help at some point in the past but were not in receipt of a current award. This group had re-applied after experiencing a sudden change in their circumstances, usually relating to redundancy or health issue which seriously affected their earning capacity.
SBA is still widely perceived as primarily funding retired members of the legal profession and their dependent spouses (usually widows). This is not the case: in 2016, two thirds of all SBA beneficiaries were under the age of 60. The single largest age group for all beneficiaries was 51 to 60 (31%).
The youngest beneficiary was 29, the eldest 101. The average age of the whole group was 56. The average age of those applying for the first time was 49.
The gender split across all beneficiaries was 59% female:41% male. When looking only at solicitors or former solicitors (ie, excluding their dependants) the gender ratio adjusted to 52% female:48% male.
In relation to racial diversity, the percentage of those who identified as black, Asian and minority ethnic was 17%. Figures split fairly evenly between Asian lawyers (8%) and African, African-Caribbean & Black British lawyers (7%), with ‘Other’ at 2%.
69% of all applicants advised that they had health issues. Of these, the majority were managing multiple issues, particularly those in older age groups
The single largest health issue was poor mental health, at 24% . Within this, the incidence of solicitors identifying depression, anxiety and PTSD (attributable in some cases to personal experiences of childhood sexual abuse, in others to domestic abuse experienced in adulthood) was noticeable.
The other major health challenge that was evident for SBA beneficiaries during 2016 was number of people (12% ) dealing with a sudden diagnosis of and treatment for cancer, either for themselves or their spouse.
19% of beneficiaries lived in London and a further 15% were in the South East. These figures contrast with those taken from the 2015 Law Society’s Annual Statistics Report, which shows practising solicitors in London and the South East as 40.2% and 9.6% respectively.
For SBA, regions outside London and the South East were also strongly represented, particularly the South West (17%), North West (14%) and Eastern (10%).
84% were current or former solicitors and 16% were dependants (usually solicitors’ widows or former spouses). Support for solicitors’ dependants remains an important strand of giving, but, as noted in relation to beneficiaries’ age profile, it is no longer dominant. The overall demographic has been changing; nowhere can this be more clearly seen than with new applicants, of whom the overwhelming majority (97%) were current or former lawyers.
SBA also asked about size of firm. Of those who answered, 52% of all the solicitors were either sole practitioners or working for small firms. The ‘Other’ category included individuals working in local government, law centres or not-for-profit organisations.
Length of Practice
In terms of length of practice, the solicitor cohort split into rough thirds, with colleagues who had over 20 years’ experience only slightly ahead of their peers.
End-of-year figures on practice areas are intriguing. The first half of 2016 showed criminal and personal injury specialists very clearly in the lead. However, these proportions changed during the year, as applications from practitioners in other areas began to rise.
The largest group – ‘General’ – were either high street practitioners or people whose expertise had stretched across a range of specialist areas. Property lawyers were particularly well represented by year-end, as too were civil litigators and family lawyers.
These results are just for the 2016 calendar year. Trend data will need to be monitored over longer periods, to see what – if any – linkages can be usefully made to changes affecting the profession as a whole.