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The New Law Society president, Tony Girling, has promised a thorough review of the organisation's finances as it emerged that a £4 million cash surplus at the end of 1995 could not be distributed among members.
Out-going treasurer Michael Howells told puzzled council members last week that plans drawn up for distributing the money ran the risk of being declared illegal.
Howells took counsel's opinion on three options for returning the cash and each was rejected on legal grounds.
The options included a direct rebate, donating the money to the compensation fund, which would have the effect of reducing contributions to the fund, and donating the cash to Law Society charities.
Howells commented: "The trouble is that if you have a surplus, the temptation is to spend it. But it is disappointing that the Law Society has to hang on to money it does not need."
Girling added: "I want to make looking at our income and expenditure a top priority of my term in office."
Robert Sayer, former deputy president, again called for external consultants to review the financial position of the society "because there must be scope for greater efficiency".
Last week's annual meeting of the Law Society voted for a postal ballot on whether its regulatory and representative functions should be split.