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It was a dark, dark day, and I believe that 2005 is going to be the annus horribilis for conveyancing lawyers, when we were outvoted at the recent Bar Council annual general meeting (AGM) for the abolition of the 'No-Discount' rule.

Many of the conveyancing lawyers are not happy about the 'No-Discount' rule but yet they fail to turn up at the AGM to abolish it. The Solicitors' Remuneration (Enforcement) Rules 2004 (SRO2004) is a farce and I propose that all you conveyancing lawyers out there who are affected by this anachronistic 'No-Discount' rule to go to the next AGM to abolish it.

I am sure most lawyers would agree with me that the practice of law is a business. In the business world there's competitiveness. For example, individuals like Andrew Carnegie; Sam Walton of Wal Mart; Ingvar Kamprad of Ikea, etc, strive on competition. In fact, their success was and/or is based on quality products for the best price.

In the legal world, it should be quality services for the best fees. Nowadays, who wouldn't ask for a discount? Even us as professionals for that matter. It is entirely up to us to charge in order that our firm's overheads are covered.

I feel that this is a free world and a free market. If the 'No-Discount' rule is maintained, I will not only lose clients but also friends and relatives. Why should we stop ourselves from giving discounts to family and friends? We can't be giving free services to all of them. I am aware of Circular No 62/2004 (the Bar Council Guidelines on Waiver of Fees in Conveyancing Matters "personal relationship" includes immediate family members, etc).

It is simply an affront to my civil liberties and common sense that I should be made accountable to the Bar Council for any waivers to be given by me. It's my firm and I do not want to ask the Bar Council's permission to ask for a waiver. It is just as simple as that.

On this premise, I would like to highlight three points for the argument for the abolition of the archaic 'No-Discount' rule:

Firstly, reality has been that discounts are rampant. Shakespeare wrote "The whole world is a stage and the men and women merely players", but we would not kid ourselves and pretend that we adhere to the 'No-Discount' rule such that when we resort to practices like off-the-record deductions, for example, delete an item or two from the disbursements or requesting the clients to pay the fees in full first and then reimburse them later, etc.

How can we go on with this charade and still maintain a straight face and say "No, I don't give discounts" or even swear in statutory declaration that we don't give discounts or proclaim in front in the most self-righteous manner that we don't give discounts but yet giving discounts in the back? I say come out and admit it!

Secondly, conveyancers should be free to negotiate fees like litigators. The problem with a fused profession like ours is that the former are governed by scale fees whilst the latter is not. I hope that this 'No-Discount' rule is not a conspiracy by litigators to put us conveyancers in a fix (being aided by daft conveyancers with personal political agenda who do not care two hoots on its negative effects on the profession). Litigators are happily charging clients problem-free and scale-free all this while and nobody ever brought this issue up. Why is there no need for such monopoly for the litigators?

Thirdly, conveyancers simply cannot charge fees too low due to the cost factor. Some of you will say that this is the reason for lawyers to abscond with clients' money. Please check before you make such statements. Most of the time, lawyers abscond due to their own bad habits like gambling or over-indulgence in material things or failed business ventures etc. I propose that the Bar Council hold a referendum on the 'No-Discount' rule restricted to conveyancers only as I feel that the litigators were the ones controlling the floor during the AGM. This was quite obvious when they spoke that they are litigators and not conveyancers.

Another awkward situation caused by a fused profession - some conveyancers have this "look and see" attitude, hopeful that in the long run things may improve and we can do less work for same fees. This lofty idea is fantastic if everyone adheres to the 'No-Discount' rule ut not when the abovementioned practices are still being used to circumvent the 'No-Discount' rule. It is very difficult to get evidence for such practices especially when the clients are the only witnesses.

My other worry is the enforcement machinery. The SRO Enforcement Procedure Committee should not consist of active practising conveyancers. There's always possibilities of them handling the same projects or doing the same kind of work or business competitors with the lawyers complained against (the opposite party).

The committee members can argue that the accounts and documents shall be scrutinised by independent auditors and not them and that they are not free to do the checking. The point is that irregardless of the integrity of the committee members or whether they have the time to check or not or whether they are doing the checking or not, the fact that such conflict exist is again an affront to justice as justice must be seen to be done.

Why are we wasting time and resources (the extra work to be done to fill up the forms and what not) in policing ourselves in matters like charging fees, which should be left entirely at our discretion? I humbly opine that the time and effort should be channelled into other pressing issues like the delays caused by bureaucratic red tapes. The Bar Council should take necessary and positive steps as soon as possible to solve the backlog of cases in the courts and the relevant authorities.

By holding dialogues without getting any results is next to achieving nothing. For example, to extract Letters of Administration or probate takes months; consent to transfer takes months; Land Offices that refused to follow the National Land Code 1965 (NLC) or have the own interpretation of the NLC; certified true copies of documents which can be done in a day but in reality takes months to be extracted; missing documents and files at the Land Offices, courts etc. All these contributed to the delay of the transactions which in turn affects our economy.

I quote the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, at China's Annual Press Conference, "I am neither nervous nor afraid because I speak from the heart!". With that I hope that this mail can be read with an open heart and in a constructive manner as this is a tiny voice representing a huge group who are either too apathetic or too scared to speak out.