Sado-masochism, that's the only possible answer.

How else do you explain why so many solicitors line up for conferences about the future of the legal profession, like lobsters clambering to the front of the tank for a better view of the cooking instructions? I speak as someone with considerable experience of these things - in fact I reckon I've totted up so many CPD points attending conferences and seminars I'm now a solicitor by default.

The formula is the same each time. A speaker with the title of professor will tell everyone they're doomed. Then an investment banker will tell them how long the agony will last.

There's a quick break for coffee, at which everyone scavenges for free pens, before shuffling back in to be told how terrible they are at running a business. If they're really unlucky the poor schmucks will then be told by a 'consumer champion' that the public hates them because a survey of six people and an Oompa Loompa told them so.

That's not to say the speakers aren't talking sense. Public perception of lawyers (not the perception of actual clients, you'll notice) is pretty low, largely because their only experience of lawyers is 'briefs' ham-acting on EastEnders.

And of course, those investors and academics are right. The market will contract and banks are lending to law firms with all the trepidation of Nigel Farage in a Bucharest bar.

Private equity investors tell me law firms are queuing round the block for capital like impoverished families at a food bank. Interestingly, the 'consolidation in the market' predictions are nothing new. I heard the same thing at these conferences two years ago (often from the same people) and yet still law firm numbers hold relatively stable.

But we shouldn't be naive enough to think this will last, and I've been told by more than one analyst of hundreds of 'zombie' firms where managing partners are running their businesses into the ground before taking retirement.

What would stick in my throat if I ran a firm is the idea that I'm largely responsible for my plight. For a start, solicitors are routinely criticised for being bad at business. That may be so, but what do you expect from people trained as lawyers? I'd wager most doctors, journalists and other professionals wouldn't know their way around a budget sheet either.

And how can you run a business when there is no certainty? When constant government reforms to your sector mean the goalposts are not so much moved as extended across the pitch with the biggest brands in the country lining up to take a shot?

There was a wonderful irony at the Modern Law conference this week. One investor said law firms were unattractive prospects because they had no certainty over their future. Just hours earlier the justice minister Helen Grant announced that a decision that could make or break firms was being delayed. How can you have any certainty when the government appears uncertain itself?

It feels like the government is meddling - hesitantly - while Rome burns. Only law firms then get the blame when they struggle for breath.

John Hyde is a Gazette reporter

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