Anthony Hilton: Lawyers are facing a tough task making a case for the survival of their profession

 

Despite having worked in London for years, I had never until this week stepped inside the Chancery Lane headquarters of the Law Society – a magnificent example of a building whose architecture reflects the confidence of the Victorian age and indeed of the profession itself in that era.

But the building seems to be coping with the passing of the years rather better than some parts of the profession. The public perception – or certainly my perception – of solicitors is that they are more of less guaranteed a fairly comfortable life in return for spending a lot of time being rather bored. But half an hour spent listening to Law Society chief executive Des Hudson painted a different picture – of a profession that, if not yet overwhelmed by financial pressures, seems to face tough times ahead. He told his audience that “survival is not compulsory”.

The challenges come from several directions. The bread-and-butter business of household conveyancing is draining away as more estate agents, building societies and banks offer to do the legal side of housebuying for far less money. Changes in the law are making it easier for accounting practices and others to offer legal services on the side. Ambulance chasers and claims handlers are generating a lot of business but little of it goes through traditional channels. The potential of technology eating the lawyers’ lunch is shown by the dispute resolution site on eBay, which resolves 60m complaints a year. On the criminal side, the cuts to legal aid budgets have hit hard.

The core challenge is that the Government believes more competition would be better for consumers, and is determined to deliver it. Mr Hudson fears the pain this will inflict on his profession is equivalent to that faced by opticians following the liberalisation of that market in 1985. When that happened, independent opticians controlled 65 per cent of the market; today 70 per cent of what a significantly larger market is controlled by national chains. The income of the independents is now just 40 per cent of the levels before deregulation.

The customer is getting a better deal but the opticians have paid a high price, and their business has changed out of recognition. The warning from Mr Hudson is that solicitors face similar pressures and will need to work hard to avoid a similar fate.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'