Strength in numbers – or splendid isolation?

Solicitor Peter Ievins is proof you can have it both ways. He is an independent sole practitioners, yet he need only take a few steps to consult one of six other legal colleagues at The Solicitors Chambers in Peterborough.

Established in 1990 by Neil Davidson, Peterborough's chambers pioneered an idea that Law Society president Tony Girling has now suggested other high street practioners should follow.

Ievins says to succeed you do not need a fabulous building to operate out of, but rather a customer service mentality and a close bond between solicitors at the chambers. “Anything will work if you like and trust each other,” he says.

There is scope for argument in calculating how to pay chambers overheads but, in the case of the Peterborough practice, individual solicitor's earnings are calculated each month and those with higher incomes pay a greater share of the costs – a “rough and ready system”, according to Ievins, but one that works.

While the chambers does get customers walking in off the street looking for legal advice, it also receives a lot of referral work from solicitors outside of the area.

Ievins believes that there is plenty of scope for growth of the chambers concept, but sole practitioners have been slow to be pick up on the idea.

Fewer than 40 solicitors have so far requested a suggested heads of agreement form for solicitors' chambers drawn up by the Law Society late last year.

Sole Practitioners Group chair John Lymbury, who was instrumental in creating the solicitors' chambers blueprint, endorses the chambers concept but warns that it is not the answer for all the 5,000-plus solicitors working on their own in England and Wales .

Lymbury argues that just as some shoppers prefer their corner shop to a Tesco supermarket, so too clients often like dealing with a sole practitioner in their own office.

Susan Singleton, of Middlesex firm Singletons Solicitors, says while the Law Society may publicly promote chambers for many sole practitioners working from home could be the best solution.

“The economics are indisputable,” says Singleton. “Ima- gine a life with no partners, profits at over 90 per cent of turnover, no employees, always visiting clients on their home ground, few time-wasting meetings, going downstairs to work wearing your oldest clothes…”

It may seem an idyllic solution when facing yet another traffic jam or tube breakdown but many solicitors who go to work to escape home may shudder at such a concept.

Lymbury warns that which-ever solution sole practitioners choose to improve their situation on the high street, one of their primary concerns in making any decision should be clients.

“I think the future is very perilous for those sole practitioners who do not address their minds to the requirements of their communities,” he says.