THERE is widespread concern about the rise of corruption within the legal profession, according to a new Law Society survey of its members. The survey, due to be published tomorrow, shows solicitors' gravest concerns are with 'malpractice' in property transactions. The 1,765 lawyers out of the society's 3,400 members who responded were also concerned over the quality of solicitors who joined the profession in the past three years. More than a thousand members rated the performance of junior solicitors as 'poor' or 'fair', while just 323 classed them as 'good'. And asked about their plans to continue practising after 1997, 1,229 said they intended to stay on, 29 were going to quit the territory, and 274 had still to decide their future. But the question which generated the most concern was: 'What do you consider the most important issues the Law Society should tackle?' 'Kickbacks to estate agents' and 'maintenance of professional standards' were the most worrying aspects for 195 and 186 solicitors respectively. A need for improved complaints procedures and better enforcement of discipline were also high. Ninety-seven lawyers said their foremost concern was for the society to 'improve the profession's public image'. Already there is anger within the society that it has for too long turned its back on rampant corruption. 'The Law Society has done nothing about this problem,' Law Society Council member Philip Li Wai-ip said. 'It is always spending money and time on issues which are not of interest to its members. 'This survey raises two very important questions: that of how the Law Society is spending its members' money and whether it is representing their interests.' The Sunday Morning Post approached several solicitors with conveyancing practices to ask about the problem of kickbacks: all refused to be named, but all said it was rife and worsening. 'It is like full-blown cancer,' said one senior solicitor, who has run a conveyancing firm for 16 years. 'It is almost impossible to set up now and not pay a share of your profits to estate agents to get them to refer clients to you. 'The situation is hopeless. It has got to the point where every estate agent you approach asks you how much you will give back to them. 'Kickbacks distort the competition, but they also mean standards are going down. Solicitors are paying part of their profits to estate agents so they have to do more work to make up for the loss. They take on too much and often become sloppy and slow. 'The Law Society has promised to do something about this for years but they have done nothing.' Solicitors Concern Group head Yolanda Fan Pui-lan said the problem was the tip of the iceberg. 'The Law Society didn't need to commission a survey to learn of the concern about kickbacks and corruption. The complaints are constant,' she said. 'Most practitioners are also concerned about kickbacks on a grander scale. A lot of project work or work for developers or major banks all go to a few select firms. You have to ask why. There are many rumours that the developers are rewarded handsomely for their loyalty. 'The Law Society Council is dominated by big firm solicitors,' she added. 'Maybe they don't want to tackle the issue because of conflicts of interest. Maybe they realise the problem is too huge to begin to tackle.' Instead, lawyers say the society is concentrating on issues such as the right of solicitors to be judges in the High Court - a matter of prime concern for only 39 respondents. The Law Society has appointed public relations experts to lobby on its behalf during discussions of the Supreme Court Bill, which would allow solicitors with 10 years' experience to be appointed to the High Court. However, Law Society secretary general Patrick Moss poured cold water on accusations of lack of accountability and the scale of kickbacks. 'We can't rely solely on the results of the questionnaire,' he said. 'It's the Law Society Council which manages the society. It has to look to the long term and think of the interests of future generations. 'We sent out the questionnaire just to know more about the profession. 'One hears anecdotal evidence about kickbacks, but it's very difficult indeed to get hard evidence. Of course, we would prosecute if we found hard evidence. But, as there is no hard evidence, one has to assume that the problem is not rife,' he said.