Bunhill: Troubled solicitors

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MUCH doom and gloom among City solicitors. Word is that several of the Square Mile's biggest and best-known firms are in serious trouble. After years of growth when they picked up work often without even trying - conflicts of interest saw to it that on the biggest deals there was plenty of business to go round - and opened huge new offices that would do even their wealthiest clients proud, they have fallen on hard times.

Deals have dried up, commercial conveyancing is at a standstill, and clients are less keen to litigate than they once were. The response has been to cut staff and scale down recruitment - but, typically, the fees they charge have been spared.

A company deputy chairman of my acquaintance tells me that so fed up is he with his City lawyers' charges that when they suggest a meeting, he insists on travelling to them, from his office in the West End, by Tube. 'If four of their partners come and see me, they take a cab. It takes half an hour to get here and half an hour to get back, and that's if the traffic is clear. They charge at least pounds 250 an hour, so that's pounds 1,000. I like nothing more than going to see them and paying pounds 1.80 on the Tube.' Nobody's taking him for a ride.