The news that more solicitors are turning to crime to keep their practices afloat is indeed terrible, writes James Morton. For far too long solicitors have neglected their businesses at the expense of clients and this altruism has clearly gone too far. But what can be done to reverse what seems an inexorable slide downhill for the small and mid-sized firm?

The answer is that they must start to look at the methods of successful commercial concerns such as airlines and hotels.

For a start, why should clients be given coffee? If a modest charge is made then, over a year, it should be enough to pay a trainee. It can be added in at the end of the bill, rather as restaurants in the East End used to have an item at the bottom, ‘g mit g’, which translated as ‘nothing for nothing’.

Then there is the question of seating. Many motels in Australia do not provide bed linen as standard. Take a cue from them. I accept it would not be viable for clients to bring their own chairs or stools – although many who queue for Wimbledon or the Last Night at the Proms do just that.

Instead there may have to be a charge for use of the waiting room. Perhaps the standard waiting room could be free but a business class room, using the office(s) of those made redundant, could attract a premium. My old employer Simpson had a two-waiting room practice. Elderly lady clients who came to have their wills made —in which he hoped to receive a modest gift — sat in the waiting room while my clients (whom he was afraid might spoil things by mugging them) had to sit on the stairs and read the Greyhound Express.

Toilets at railway stations are no longer free. Why should yours be? Then there might be premium rates for telephone calls, with those received out of office hours or during luncheon attracting the highest tariff. Tiresome clients who continually ring to enquire about the state of their case clearly should pay a premium. Just as airlines have a baggage allowance, a ration of, say, six calls a transaction could be imposed with rising penalties for excess.

At first glance these suggestions may not seem much but, as one supermarket chain advertises, ‘Every little helps’.

James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor