Get real or get out

The letter from John Edge, of Edge Leyden Ellis to conveyancing solicitors across the country, which was widely publicised throughout the legal press, amounts to nothing short of a declaration of war.

It runs something like this – solicitors are the victims of the housing crisis, forced to charge rock bottom prices for work. The Law Society has stood by and allowed this appalling state of affairs to develop, having "written off conveyancing".

The thrust of Edge's argument is the monthly struggle to "make enough money to pay wages and overheads". And he finds it "offensive, depressing and degrading that 25 years' hard work as a solicitor should result in meagre financial reward".

His solution includes higher consumer fees, effectively doubling them overnight, and making lenders pay for services they currently get for free.

There is no doubt that conveyancing lawyers have had a rough ride in recent years. The housing market crash put paid to bread and butter work and there is little sign of a recovery in sight.

But imposing restrictive practices to the tune of "the world owes us a living" is hardly likely to do the trick. It opens up opportunities for banks and building societies to offer their own conveyancing services. And the Office of Fair Trading may have something to say about set fees.

Such an insular perspective is unlikely to impress anyone, particularly consumers who have to fork out so solicitors can have a less meagre financial reward. Even the argument that cut-price conveyancing has led to more claims from the Indemnity Fund has not been proven.

While the Law Society could certainly help in raising the profile of conveyancing solicitors, to ask it to impose restrictive fees is a bit rich.

Surely it is time for the conveyancers to give the consumer what they want. And if the service cannot be provided at market prices, then perhaps firms should consider investigating alternative business opportunities.