Law Society too quick to call time at the bar

Michael Martin was one of the wealthiest men at the bar and he wasn't even a barrister. As senior clerk at Cloisters chambers, he earned a small fortune because his remuneration was a percentage of fees earned by tenants at the public law set.

Martin was the last of a dying breed. Few clerks continue to earn their crust in such a rudimentary manner and barristers at Cloisters decided Martin was making too much money. Martin, the set decided, would have to go.

But, of course, after 26 years at the same chambers feelings run deep and Martin has felt so slighted by his dismissal and the manner in which he alleges it was made, he felt obliged to tell his story to The Lawyer.

The tale he tells reveals the stark difficulties facing the bar as it attempts to embrace modern business practices. But then these are difficult times, especially for the bar's old guard, who will now have to fend off the modernisers not only from within but also from the frenzied sharks at the Law Society, who are desperate to gobble up its institutions.

Law Society president Robert Sayer's call for one legal profession by 2005 will provoke a flurry of debate. "No more solicitors or barristers – just lawyers. With one code of conduct, one set of rules, one regulator. One legal profession offering the public whatever legal help they need," pleads Sayer.

His words will find favour with those who believe the legal system where solicitors brief clients and then go to barristers for proper advice has allowed fees to spiral ridiculously out of control.

But a unified legal profession faces many obstacles. Not least the perilous state of the Law Society, which has failed to bring its own house in order. It seems ridiculous to think it could add another one to its stable and regulate that too.

President Bob may have been promising a Magic Kingdom but his speech is pure Mickey Mouse.