Time for lawyers to face the inevitable

THE LAW Society and the Bar Council are right to join a crusade against Lord Irvines plan to substitute conditional fees for legal aid in most civil cases. There is a very real danger that reforms that are designed to provide access to justice to the middle classes will deprive the poor of that same right.

But there is also a danger that lawyers will get so carried away fighting the good fight, they will conveniently forget the part they have played in causing the dreadful mess that originally prompted Lord Irvines reforms.

His message to the profession is clear: both solicitors and barristers must undergo a revolution in their practices. Barristers face the biggest upheaval because, until now, the Bar has been the more successful of the two branches of the profession in preserving an antiquated and outdated way of life which suits no one better than barristers themselves.

When Lord Mackay last tried to shake things up, he was sat upon by the judiciary. But this time the Government has a massive majority, the House of Lords is about to be reformed and lawyers are even more reviled now than they were 10 years ago. Fusion, if it means the public will get a better deal, should not be ruled out.

Solicitors also face some home truths. The best-run firms and the most competent practitioners will still be able to deliver legal aid, while, if conditional fees take off in the way Lord Irvine hopes, there may even be an increase in work.

There is, however, one proviso. The solicitors who survive, or even thrive, will have to be good at their jobs. For too long, too many solicitors have been living under the dangerous misconception that they are owed a living just because at some point, perhaps a very long time ago, they qualified as solicitors.

Those days, we hope, are over.