Three years ago, with the property boom at its height, the prospect of conveyancing fees fixed at less than $200 would have seemed the stuff that dreams are made of. But as our front page story today demonstrates, since economic adjustment revolutionised the property market, the legal profession has undergone a long-overdue reality check. Even the Law Society, which last year urged members to submit tenders of $3,500 for work done under the Home Ownership Scheme, now seems resigned to drastically reduced fees. Faced with depressed sales and a property market that has almost halved in value, the eventual fee agreed on last September - $888 - was one quarter of that amount. But in the light of today's news, the unavoidable conclusion is that even that figure was on the high side. It will come as no surprise to the public to learn that law firms can apparently handle the work for $191 a head and still manage to make a living. Past charges were self-evidently disproportionate, particularly in the case of new private developments, when each purchaser faced hefty scale fees even though the legal work entailed one search covering the whole building. The situation is different with older property, where a more complex search is involved and higher charges are usually justified. But by far the largest section of housing sales are in the primary market. So it is small wonder that 60 per cent of law firms concentrated on conveyancing. In England and Australia where solicitors no longer have a monopoly on conveyancing, a system using specially trained and licensed operators has worked without problems for more than a decade. No city has reaped the benefits of competition more effectively in recent years than Hong Kong. But conveyancing is one of the few legal services that cannot be handled outside the profession. Here, most law firms have switched to other work, mainly litigation, where profits remain large and business is expanding. Those are areas where the profession can close ranks to keep fees high. People are bound to wonder whether other charges are as exorbitant as conveyancing has been. If so, it is a largely self-defeating policy, which does nothing to enhance the status of lawyers, and narrows the client base barring all but the wealthy from the market.