The combined profits of the UK's 100 largest law firms have broken the £5 billion mark for the first time, research revealed today, as the sector shrugged off the economic gloom.
The top 100 - which focus on corporate law, dealing with mergers, acquisitions and advising major companies - billed £17.7 billion in the financial year 2011/12, pulling in £5.4 billion in profits, up 8 per cent on the previous year, magazine Legal Business said.
The impressive performance, helped by a number of major law firms merging in the previous year, came despite the economy returning to recession in the first quarter of 2012.
The top five biggest legal firms in the UK by turnover are DLA Piper, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Allen & Overy and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, the study said.
Mark McAteer, national editor at Legal Business, said: "Despite the dismal economy of the last four years and the current double-dip recession, our legal industry is in rude health."
The survey was first published 20 years ago when the top 100 firms collectively billed their clients £2.7 billion and made profits of £891 million.
The legal market has grown eight-fold since then, compared to the wider economy, which has grown 2.5 times over the same period.
The top 100 UK law firms employ a total of 55,629 lawyers and 46,702 non-lawyers, the survey found, while 668 people were promoted to partner in 2012.
Legal firm Slaughter and May's lawyers are also the most profitable with each generating, on average, £304,000 in profit for the firm.
The UK legal profession continues to struggle with gender equality, with women making just 14 per cent of equity and 23 per cent of all partners.
At the more junior levels the numbers are more evenly balanced, with female lawyers accounting for 45% of lawyer numbers.