Shoosmiths & Harrison has forged a conveyancing alliance with Hambro Countrywide estate agents in a move which has dismayed high street practitioners.
Under the arrangement between Shoosmiths and Hambros, the estate agents will offer in-house conveyancing to clients selling through its offices and advise buyers to go to Shoosmiths.
Shoosmiths partner Roger Wilson is to leave the firm to head Hambros' in-house Midlands conveyancing centre, due to open in June. Partner Andrew Tubbs will be leading the firm's conveyancing unit.
The new conveyancing service is expected to be up and running by June.
Shoosmiths managing partner Graham New said a "substantial" number of solicitors would be taken on to staff the new unit, which is also seeking work from other institutions.
He added: "We see this as the way conveyancing is going to be done in the future. This is a business decision and we are leading the way.
"Shoosmiths will offer a seven-day service working outside normal office hours."
When Hambros announced its new in-house conveyancing service last year it said it would be using licensed convey ancers. Now it says it is keen to use solicitors as well.
The estate agents has entered into a similar agreement with 10-partner Middlesex firm E D C Lord & Co. The firm plans to open new offices in Woking and Brentwood, each with up to 50 staff, which will take referrals from the Hambros conveyancing centres in the two towns.
Hambros is also in talks with other regional law firms around England.
The announcements represent another uncomfortable jolt for the high street firms.
Solicitors Property Group executive officer Leslie Dubow said high street conveyancing solicitors face losing 40 per cent of their work.
"The writing is on the wall," said Dubow, who has called a meeting of high street practitioners for next month to discuss the establishment of a Solicitors Property Centre.
The first Hambros conveyancing centre is due to open in Woking next month.
Further centres are due to open in Brentwood, Northampton, Southampton, Bristol and Manchester.
Hambros, the UK's largest estate agency chain, sold a total of 83,844 houses in 1996, a 28 per cent increase on the previous year.