The New Law Journal is right to complain in its 24 January issue that the question of solicitors' property centres should not be discussed by the Law Society's council behind closed doors, nor should discussion of the proposal have been deferred.
When I chaired the British Legal Association I wrote to every local law society in England and Wales and to the Law Society proposing property centres to be sponsored by local law societies on the Scots model. The idea was that they would be non-profit-making but charge enough to pay their way and would be able to market houses for sale only from clients of solicitors who were centre-members. Those solicitors would charge the proper fee for conveyancing.
The advantage was that it would keep the overall cost of buying and selling property down for the layman and ensure the public continued to use solicitors for conveyancing. Solicitors and clients would both benefit and the services of estate agents – at fees often higher than solicitors' – would no longer be necessary.
The Law Society was not attracted to the idea and only three or so local law societies expressed any interest. Some were hostile and most ignored the suggestion. In the event, nothing was done – partly, I think, because some solicitors were reluctant to challenge the power of estate agents.
We have seen the result of such timidity. Will the Law Society be allowed to drag its feet again or, worse, do nothing? The profession must wake up.