Law Society president Martin Mears has made a dramatic eleventh-hour plea to presidential challenger Tony Bogan to reconsider his decision to stand for election.
Mears told Bogan, a former political ally, he risked splitting the reformist vote and "allowing the Old Guard back to power via the back door".
Next month's presidential election will be a three-way fight between Mears, Bogan and deputy vice-president Tony Girling, who is dismissed as pro-establishment by both Bogan and Mears.
Mears, tacitly recognising he could be defeated on 15 July, said Bogan should "seriously consider his actions otherwise there is the possibility he will let in the people we both fought against a year ago".
Girling, whose candidature has the heavyweight backing of partners at City law firms, is campaigning under the slogan, "rebuilding respect for the profession". He claimed Mears' "confrontational" leadership style had caused division at a time when unity is essential.
But the president rejected Bogan's single-issue campaign, being run by the newly formed Solicitors Association, to separate the Law Society trade union and regulatory role.
"We have received advice that a separation is unlikely to be possible. It would need approval from the Privy Council and probably an Act of Parliament as well," he said.
Bogan, who said he has no intention of standing down, is a veteran campaigner for minimum charges for conveyancing. He said: "A year ago, the choice was between the Old Guard and the New Reformers. Twelve months later, what progress? We have had a year of turmoil and uncertainty, public squabbling and frustrated expectations."
But he conceded that the possibility of splitting the reformist vote was a "risk which we have considered".
Bogan believes the conveyancing issue can only be solved if the Law Society's representative and regulatory functions are split because of the "conflict" in looking after both professional and public interest.
Girling is supported by Philip Sycamore, standing as vice-president, and by Clifford Chance partner Michael Mathews who is standing as deputy vice-president. Bogan is standing on his own.
Girling is backed by the Campaign for New Leadership which has the support of leading lawyer Michael Napier.
The election campaign, which saw nominations close at the end of last week, is estimated to cost £100,000, up from about £60,000 last year. A Law Society spokesman said additional funds are being made available "to reflect the importance attached to presidential contests".
Meanwhile, the Solicitors Association has published a letter to the Law Society demanding to know why the Girling campaign has been allowed to use the society's crest on election literature, making it look as if his candidature is backed by Chancery Lane.