In the beginning…

In 1987, The Lawyer cost 90 pence. News of its launch was broken in the Financial Times, and its front page declared that advertising for solicitors had been given the green light.

The relaxing of the rules, which allowed solicitors to advertise on television, send out mailshots and sponsor events, was seen as signalling a new era – and one which would usher in a more aggressive approach by solicitors to their competitors.

It also signalled a greater willingness by solicitors to speak to the press – as Norton Rose Botterell & Roche executive partner David Mullock said to The Lawyer at the time: “Four years ago, we would have held a partners' meeting before agreeing to talk to you.”

At the same council meeting that approved advertising, the Law Society council rejected a proposal to allow solicitors to make business arrangements with non-solicitors (to form MDPs in other words).

The MDP proponents argued that solicitors would be “marginalised” unless they agreed to such arrangements. But the overwhelming majority of the 70-member council argued that to agree to them would be “a short step to ending the independence of the profession”.

In the other strand of the profession, the Bar was pushing for direct access to accountants and surveyors, with accountants also pressing to instruct barristers directly. Those moves were put on hold by the matter being referred to a joint Bar-Law Society committee chaired by Lady Marre. The committee was set up to examine the question as part of its overall review of the future of the profession.

Then, as now, rumour mergers were rife. Cameron Markby was in talks with Richards Butler. Despite denials, Linklaters & Paines was frequently mentioned as a suitor to Ince & Co; Freshfields was said to be interested in Holman Fenwick & Willan; and Clifford Turner and Ashurst Morris Crisp were supposed to be “eyeing each other”.

And it was not just in the City merger rumours circulated. Bevan Ashford had just been formed by the merger of three West Country firms, and in the Midlands, Howes Percival signalled its intention to expand through merger. In the event, it was the merger of Coward Chance and Clifford Turner that hit the headlines in the second issue of The Lawyer. And in September 1987, the merger of Lovell White & King and Durrant Piesse was finalised.

The year 1987 saw a General Election and a strong showing of lawyers in the Government. Barristers included Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sir Michael Havers QC as Lord Chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Howe as Foreign Secretary, Kenneth Clarke as Minister for Trade & Industry and Malcolm Rifkind QC as Secretary of State for Scotland. New silk David Mellor QC was appointed as Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

And Scottish advocates had cause for celebration – of the 15 who stood, seven were elected and two held government posts. Peter Fraser was Solicitor General for Scotland, and Lord Cameron of Lochbroom was Lord Advocate.

Firms were given new opportunities with the arrival of the Financial Services and Insolvency Acts on the statute books. Considering the imminent recession and Black Monday's stockmarket crash in October 1987, the latter was particularly timely. City firms were already reporting decreasing business at the year end.

One City partner said: “Deals dependent on Stock Exchange prices are not being done.”

It was also the year The Lawyer reported that City firm Berwin Leighton was to associate with the snappily named US firm Finley Kumble, Wagner, Heine, Underberg, Manley, Myerson & Casey. If nothing else, we assume there had to be special dispensation to widen the letterhead so all the names would fit on it…

Other issues hitting the pages were marketing and recruitment, as well as moves into information technology. As the leader column said: “Lawyers are bracing themselves for a new world of competition… Management consultants and PR advisers have become essential tools in gearing up firms for this competitive market… In short, the profession is in a state of unprecedented turmoil.”

Plus ca change…

“The reason for the Bar not having its own livery company is most likely rooted in the fact that companies were formed largely by tradesmen. Barristers have (at any rate in the past) rejected any image which smacked of lucre”

The Lawyer

“The public can see no reason why this privileged profession, pampered and protected behind its own rules, should not be exposed to the same disciplines of competition that all others have to face”

Peter Reeves, former solicitor in report to Adam Smith Institute on the Bar

“You can't have the City run by two or three firms. In some firms the executive talent can be spread too thinly”

Christopher Bell, Travers Smith Braithwaite

“The issue of multi-disciplinary partnerships is for us perhaps similar to the issue of the ordination of women for the Church of England… The Government has no coherent line on this area. We need to remember, though, that pure competition does not always provide the best service.”

John Hayes, taking over as secretary general of the Law Society 26 March 1987