The City is the nucleus of the modern world

I do not think I want my ashes scattered in Moorgate, although there are worse places. The street certainly has endurance. Seen through the rain-smeared window of a cab, it doesn't look much different from the way it did nearly 40 years ago when I walked down it on the way to my interview for articles at Simmons & Simmons in Dominion Street.

In the next month or so we will leave Dominion Street, which still has a cupboard with a shelf for the partners' hats, and move the firm two hundred yards to City Point. And have the changes in that time been so great?

The corporate scene has changed altogether. A study in the 1930s found that most companies only last three generations and, apart from the oil majors, some brewers who no longer brew and the big stores, there seem to be few names from the 1960s left.

Privatisation has changed the corporate landscape altogether and even the huge concerns created by that process are now mutating beyond recognition – whatever happened to British Gas?

Lloyd's and the Stock Exchange are still there but in different buildings, and are driven by corporate enterprise rather than the hundreds of individuals and firms who used to make up those institutions.

The banks have also changed. Midland Bank has gone the way of Martins and the National Provincial. Barings, Warburgs and Kleinwort Benson survive as names, while Samuel Montagu and Morgan Grenfell are just memories.

What about the law firms? At the centenary of our firm, I said that law firms had a way of surviving because they were only people and ideas.

With no fundamental technology to be superseded and no alternative means of delivering tailor- made legal advice likely to be invented, City law firms should be capable of the changes necessary for survival in a contracting and accelerating world. Competition has become open and direct. Technology has meant a step change in speed and international reach and in knowledge management.

The City's four largest firms are set on a drive for international growth that will end in triumph or disaster but will not reverse. The Americans have come and their hastily assembled outposts are showing signs of strain. The accountants pop in and out.

But are these lasting changes or just the inevitable re-assembly of the jigsaw pieces?

The fundamental change is that a certain sort of English tradition has disappeared. In the City of London shadows no longer lengthen over the county ground and old maids no longer bicycle to Holy Communion through the mists of autumn.

The City has become a centre for the world, and the world has no tradition. But if we want the City to be a great international capital market we have to accept the pressure it brings, and it is the pressure that forces the changes.

Bill Knight is senior partner at Simmons & Simmons