A profession feeling the squeeze, but with many members still finding a degree of room for manoeuvre in order to achieve personal advancement. And in some respects the advantage appears to lie, for the time being at least, with the in-house sector as opposed to private practice.
There were of course wide variations in the individual responses which are impossible to bring out without going into excessive detail. But with nearly 1,200 respondents, the Journal's first Employment Survey of Scottish solicitors - reported on in this month's issue - is probably representative enough to show some clear patterns emerging.
First of all, while for the most part solicitors are fairly comfortably off, average earnings are not at the "fat cat" level commonly assumed in the press: at 10 or more years qualified, the mid-point of reported earnings falls in the £50,000-59,999 band, although the continuing gender difference is enough to see a majority of men (54%) at that stage into the £60,000+ bands. And that is after excluding the 37% of women working part time at that stage, no doubt mainly due to family commitments.
There is also still a gap, though not a huge one, in the typical status achieved by then, with more men at partner or associate, and more women at associate or senior solicitor. Probably we need to repeat the exercise a couple of times to establish whether there is a greater tendency among men to move jobs in order to achieve personal advancement: the figures for the recently qualified suggested this might be the case, but those for other groups were more ambiguous.
It's hard to say, in other words, on the basis of these figures whether there is much of an issue of gender inequality in the profession, or whether conscious career choices have more of an influence on comparative positions.
What does tend to emerge is that the private in-house sector is doing a bit better on average than either its public equivalent or private practice, with both slightly higher average earnings and better benefits - though a final salary pension remains the prized reward of a far higher proportion in the public sector. (And if anything the private sector is still the one most on the lookout for the next career opportunity: what, if anything, is the link there?)
Also unsurprising is the extent to which both genders work in excess of their contracted hours - the pressure to meet billable hours targets can be unrelenting. Again there is some indication that it is men who are most likely to work the longest hours (over 55 a week), though one would hope that advancement in the profession does not depend simply on staying the longest at your desk.
This survey was very much a first of its kind for the Journal, although based on similar exercises carried out by others. Please do post a comment if there are significant features of work in legal practice that you think we have overlooked, or areas that might be explored in more depth next time.