Light a bundle of joss sticks at the temple of Mah Mon, ye unbelievers. Hail to the god of Hong Kong lawyers! A solicitor's duty to charge exorbitant fees has been preserved. The Money God has stood by his votaries. What? Sorry. There's been a mistake. The Money God's let you down after all. Solicitors broke open the champagne last night to celebrate the defeat of the Government's attempt to abolish fixed-scale fees and open the conveyancing business to free competition. But as they toasted legislative councillors for crushing the Government 29 votes to 24, From the Gallery wondered if they really knew what had happened. Did even the legislators understand? For hours they had argued. Were scale fees there to protect the consumer or the solicitor? If you abolished fixed fees, set as a proportion of the price of the property, would there be a price war? Was it true that price cuts would affect the quality of the work? If property prices rose, why should the cost of quality rise with them? If you paid peanuts, would you get monkeys? If you paid in gold bars, were you guaranteed not to get monkeys? And were consumers intelligent enough to know the difference? The democratic camp and the Attorney-General thought they were. Legal constituency representative Margaret Ng, and any legislator likely to return next week as a provisional legislator seemed to doubt it. Even if you trusted consumers, was there anything wrong in principle with fixed fees for services? Ronald Arculli raised the tricky question of taxi meters. This caused something of a stir. Until that moment, nobody had thought taxi meters strictly relevant to the question in hand. It turned out they were. If society thought it necessary to protect consumers from haggling over fares, why should it feel differently about legal fees. (No, Ron. That's conveyances, not conveyancing. Negotiating in lawyers' offices does not cause traffic jams). In the end, they voted. Confused as they were - some seemed unsure if the subject was probate or conveyancing - legislators backed scale fees. The Democratic Party, lawyers and all, looked glum. Then they perked up. An amendment by the Attorney-General gave them their opportunity. Irrespective of other decisions, it said, solicitors and their clients would be able to negotiate fees. 'Aye,' said the democratic camp. 'No' said Margaret Ng, the Liberal Party and their allies. The vote was tied. President Andrew Wong's casting vote went to the Attorney-General. The result? Scale-fees stand. But lawyers may ignore them with impunity. Cork that champagne, guys. Snuff out the incense.