ILLEGAL commission paid to law clerks in conveyancing can be as high as 60 per cent of the net cost of a transaction, the Law Society has been told. Although giving commission to people other than solicitors is against the law, the society has yet to come up with measures to tackle the long-standing problem. In a recent high-level meeting on commission-taking and touting, chaired by Attorney-General Jeremy Mathews, the Law Society was asked to present solutions to stamp out the practice. Although an inspection system to deal with commission-taking in the criminal field is to be set up, nothing has been done on the same problem in the conveyancing field. In a paper obtained by the South China Morning Post, a former conveyancing clerk told the Law Society that the firm he worked for had been paying him commission. Mr X had worked for law firms for eight years and began receiving commission about five years ago. His basic salary was $6,000 but the commission he received every month came to more than $20,000. ''When I was working in the firm, there was a commission arrangement between the partners and all the staff of the firm whereby commission would be paid to any staff who introduced business to the firm,'' Mr X said. In his particular firm, commission was paid in two different percentages: staff allowed to have a reference number were paid 40 per cent of the net cost of the solicitor's bill; staff not allowed to have a reference number were paid 25 per cent of the net cost. Clerks were usually allowed to have a reference number but typists, messengers and receptionists were not. Clerks' tasks included attending clients, drafting documents, checking titles, preparing assignments, and even applying for mortgage loans for clients. At the beginning of each month, staff who received commission signed their names in a hard-cover notebook to acknowledge receipt of the money. ''Each page of the notebook stated the file reference number, the amount of net costs and the amount of commission. These notebooks were kept in the cupboard behind the head of the accounts department,'' Mr X said in the statement. Commission was paid in cash before September 1992 but afterwards was paid by cheque. The clerk's former boss admitted to the Labour Department that he owed Mr X commission after firing him. A Labour Department receipt on reconciliation showed that the law firm admitted it owed Mr X $16,288 in commission, $4,645 in leave payment and $9,000 in salary. Mr X said the law firm would not give details to the Inland Revenue Department on the amounts of commission but disguised them as entertainment expenses. Every clerk had to provide receipts of various kinds so that the firm, in its tax return, could claim the amount of money paid in commission as entertainment expenses. Mr X said commission was as high as 60 per cent if clerks could meet a monthly quota on the amount of business they brought to the firm. The figure was 60 per cent if the clerk could bring in $200,000 or more. It was 50 per cent for $100,000 worth of business. A solicitor who declined to be named said some lawyers gave cash commission up to 55 or 60 per cent of solicitors' fees. But to guarantee business, such clerks had to collaborate with estate agents who demanded kickbacks of as much as 50 per cent. The solicitor said that, with the high amount of business brought in by clerks, law firms could not possibly check through the history of flats to identify problems such as ownership, original restrictions in Crown leases or illegal structures. ''They just sign their names on the documents without bothering to go through the investigation process,'' he said. ''Such problems will not emerge until their clients try to sell the flats and are found out by lawyers of the buyers. The problems are just sitting there like time bombs.'' The solicitor said consumers should check the reputations of law firms with the Law Society before engaging them. Moses Cheng Mo-chi, a member of the Law Society's Guidance Committee, said he was strictly against commission because it was illegal under the society's code of practice. He said he was asked for commission by estate agents who told him he would lose business if he did not do so. ''I think the problem is widespread since the agents are very open in asking for commission, saying that others are giving them the money. I have to tell them to go away,'' Mr Cheng said. Mr Cheng said it was very difficult to deal with the problem since all parties concerned were happy about the arrangement and the clients were unaware of the problems. Under the existing system, the Law Society cannot start an investigation on its own initiative. But Mr Cheng said that when the new inspection system was introduced, the Law Society would have the to power to inspect the books and accounts of law firms in the absence of complaints.