Sole practitioner firms continue to grow despite increasingly difficult times for lawyers out on their own.

The Law Society's 1996 Statistical Report reveals that while in the past decade mergers and business growth have seen a 29 per cent rise in the number of firms with 11 or more partners, growth in the legal profession is accounted for almost entirely by an increase in sole practitioner firms. Yet sole practitioners have the lowest gross fees growth rate per firm with a quarter making a profit of £21,000 or less.

The report warns that solicitors must enter new markets, such as giving financial advice and catering to Britain's burgeoning elderly population. However, it says less than 1 per cent of gross fees are earned in the financial services field.

The report shows that women are more likely to remain assistants than men, with higher proportions of men achieving part- nership status than women.

Of solicitors in private practice with 10 to 19 years' experience, 89 per cent of men are partners or sole practitioners compared with only 65 per cent of women.