Not the Oldest Profession, but Surely the Slowest. Why?

The law isn’t quite the oldest profession, but it probably comes a close second. It’s certainly the slowest, though, and I’ve never understood why. Can anyone explain and excuse?

I’m selling a flat in Hove in the UK, and must, with some  regret, but accepting that it’s essential, engage the services of a lawyer.

You need lawyers, even in your private life – for buying and selling property, making a Will, administering an estate, suing the neighbours, and so on. To be frank, I don’t particularly resent the high hourly fees they charge. If we were to add up all our legal costs in a lifetime, it would probably come to less than the amount we spend on teabags.

What I resent is that they seem to work so slowly. It’s a common complaint. Whenever my friends are buying or selling property or engaging in casual litigation of one kind of another, the common complaint is that lawyers are slow.

If you’re a lawyer, you’ll already be bridling at these remarks. But let me be clear: I don’t see lawyers as rapacious and exploitative. This frequently reproduced image of lawyers milking their clients really isn’t a fair reflection of the profession.


It’s not always like Jarndyce and Jarndyce  in Dickens’ Bleak House, where decades of legal work on an inheritance issue consumes the entire estate.

I’m being peevish because I engaged the services of a firm of solicitors to handle the conveyancing of the flat I’m selling. The partner responsible emailed me his terms and I replied within the hour agreeing to them. No response. Two whole weeks then passed before I received the standard package of client care letter, terms and conditions, request for payment in advance, and so on. This wasn’t a matter of delays in the postal service. These documents come by email nowadays. What possible excuse can there be for two weeks’ delay? If a potential client were to agree with my company that we should perform some services, I would send the documents the same day, or the next. I try to respond to all emails immediately if I can.

How can lawyers get away with this, and thrive? And they do thrive, I’m sure!

I know that the high liability of lawyers in the case of negligence or error, requires that they take great care, and I know that lawyers are highly and expensively trained, but the same can be said of engineers, IT consultants, architects, and the millions of members of other professions. And it’s not as if all legal work is highly specialised so that a particular practice might enjoy an arrogant monopoly and behave as it sees fit. No, conveyancing work, and much other work, is almost a commodity, which, surely, a law firm would have to sell competitively, on the basis of speed and efficiency, if not price.

I should also say that I like the lawyers I’ve met. They are usually careful, kind, thoughtful, courteous, often interested in what they are doing, and, to use a word I hate, ‘professional’.

No other profession I work in or with is like this. Or do you disagree?

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