Britain's lawyers could find themselves "wearing the same suits and working for Wal-Mart" if they don't wake up to the implications of the draft Legal Services Bill.
The stark warning comes from Guy Barnett, managing partner of Birmingham law firm Blakemores.
Mr Barnett says he is shocked by the number of lawyers who have not grasped the implications of the Bill and its forerunners, the Clementi Review and subsequent White Paper, which paved the way for the introduction of socalled Tesco Law.
The proposals will allow businesses such as supermarkets or insurers to provide legal services and to own law firms. The intention is to promote greater competition and innovation for consumers.
The Co-op, the supermarket and financial services group, has said it plans to offer legal services once the reforms become law. The AA, the insurance and breakdown service, has also indicated that it will be looking closely at its options. Ironically, Tesco, the supermarket giant whose name has become synonymous with the reforms, has yet to declare its hand.
Mr Barnett predicts that about 50 per cent of smaller legal firms will go to the wall as a result of the proposals within the next five years, and points to several practice collapses and mergers which indicate this.
He said: "The Government is hell bent on giving the consumer better - and cheaper -- access to legal services.
"These will mean commoditising legal advice, which will be provided by individuals who are not necessarily trained in the law. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does mark a significant change for the legal profession which will now be judged on the concepts of 'consumerism' as opposed to an independent profession designed to safe-guard the public interest.
"For the last few years the legal profession has been polarising in to two camps: firms who take on high value, complex work, essentially in the company and commercial area and those who take on lower value but volume domestic work. The latter are those that will have to compete with the supermarkets in the areas of conveyancing, wills and personal injury work.
"But there are those firms who have not adapted to the market forces. They are already being squeezed by the larger law firms and will undoubtedly suffer when legal services are on offer in the shopping aisles."
Blakemores has already been gearing up for the change.
Mr Barnett said: "In the last five years Blakemores has streamlined from 14 branch offices to a two office operation. Yet we have more than doubled the number of staff and tripled our net turnover.
"We have also installed professional managers and invested in IT to ensure that our business is efficient and financially effective. This means we can take in large numbers of cases in areas such as personal injury and immigration, areas other lawyers have turned their back on because they are not high value.
"We are fighting fit and are prepared for the competition. We are not alone.
"In Birmingham the recent mergers of Alexander Harris with Irwin Mitchell, and Challinors with Cartwright Lewis are starting to set the scene. But we are also aware of smaller firms who are not in good shape and for whom the Tesco laws present a real threat."