ARE SOLICITORS REALLY DOWN ON THEIR LUCK?

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The Independent Online
We may shed few tears for them as we hand over a three-figure cheque for conveyancing, or pounds 10 for the privilege of their signature on a sworn statement, but solicitors have financial problems.

The fall in house sales, reduced involvement of solicitors in divorce cases, and intense competition and price-cutting are all reasons cited for the poor fortunes of many members of the profession in recent years. Solicitor David Freeman, who acts as an adviser to lawyers on a pro bono basis under the Law Society Assistance Scheme, also points to the fact that legal aid has become more controlled, and many small firms, having taken up office space at what seemed to be favourable rents during the boom period, have found themselves struggling to pay their way since the recession took hold.

John Jenkins, policy adviser at the Law Society's Research and Policy Planning Unit, points to evidence contained in the Society's Annual Statistical Report for 1995. Overall, he says, solicitors in private practice survived the recession remarkably well, and their total gross fee more or less kept pace with inflation. But research carried out in conjunction with management consultants and chartered accountants Coopers and Lybrand reveals that there are indeed many solicitors who have done far less well of late. A quarter of smaller firms are in financial difficulty, according to a study of a panel of solicitors' firms. Around 25 per cent of sole practitioners are earning less than pounds 10,000 a year (though many of these are working on a part-time basis); more significantly, 25 per cent of partners in 2-4 partner firms are currently earning less than pounds 24,000 a year.

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