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Another year of surging income for the commercial firms is widening the gap between top law firms and high street practitioners, according to the most authoritative annual snapshot of the profession.The Law Society’s annual statistical report 2000, issued this week, shows the number of firms with 26-plus partners increased by 3.3%, with total fee income for the profession rising 9.7% in 1999 to hit £9.49bn. Smaller firms were found to be in decline with the number of sole practices falling by 4.8% and the number of five- to 10-partner firms dropping by 2.3%. Over a five-year period, the number of five- to 10-partner firms has fallen by 10%. The number of firms with 26 or more partners nearly doubled over the last decade to 127.Against a rise of 3.2% in the retail price index, a key measure of inflation, a growth of the number of solicitors in private practice of 3.6% indicate a slight increase in profitability of the profession overall.Nevertheless, the reported concludes that the growth in the number of solicitors and the impact of price inflation means that across the profession real income, measured by the gross income per solicitor has fallen since the last recession, with the exception of firms in the 11-26 partner range.The report also indicates that the profession will struggle to attract enough solicitors to feed its expansion, with the number of admissions to the Roll in July 2000 down 2.9% on the previous year at 6,056.

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