I notice that a large number of firms, some of considerable size and reputation, have gone under in the last 12 months. Indeed, I recently read that there is speculation that 26% of all firms would cease practising within the next year. While I am determined not to come into this category, I have noticed in recent years that I have had to give up BUPA membership, change to a smaller car, halve my drawings and terminate any pension provision.
The banks are now well aware that we are a risky profession for lending purposes and I understand that HMRC statistics show that our earnings have diminished.
When I was young, I would happily have taken a job with British Railways, but my parents advised me that the law was more lucrative. I regret the choice, having seen friends retiring with substantial pensions. Indeed, public sector or quasi-public sector earnings are now substantially in advance of those in private employment.
What is it that ails the profession? We seem to be stuck with the same problem that caused the bar to come out on strike recently; there is considerable confusion in the minds of the public between gross and net earnings. I am not surprised the bar complained when it was put forward that the average earnings of a junior at the criminal bar were £39,000 per annum, totally overlooking travel expenses, subsistence, insurance and chambers expenses.
We have similar problems in that overhead costs are rising faster than earnings. I have not noticed any significant rise in the profession’s charges for conveyancing, wills, probate and similar work during the last five years, but the courts continue to heap responsibilities on to solicitors, so that we are considered negligent for almost anything which a house purchaser suffers.
We throw in work concerning mortgages without extra charge, despite the fact that some lenders’ forms of report on title can take an hour to complete. Can the profession continue to do conveyancing for £400-£500, wills for £100 and so on?
The popular image is that we make pots of cash. I well remember a client coming in with my bill in his hand and commenting that we did not do too badly; but when I explained that most of it disappeared in overheads he said ‘eh, lad, who does pay for your offices and your staff?’.
He was very surprised when I told him it came out of what I was paid. He seemingly thought it all came out of the national legal service – something like the National Health Service. If only.
I have always noticed that on taxation of costs, the amount allowed for members of the medical profession is something around three times the hourly rate allowed for solicitors. We used to rely upon the popular image to persuade banks to give us credit, but now there is no longer any advantage to be gained from this.
It is time the world at large was told something of the truth about solicitors’ earnings.
Name and address withheld on request