The road to recovery
6 October 1997
While practices found 1993 the bleakest year of the decade, with a 20 per cent fall in profits and typical profit per partner dropping from 1991's £100,000 to £72,000, 1994 looked more promising.
Commercial property lawyers were in demand, and although a number of City firms, including Titmuss Sainer Dechert and Denton Hall, cut staff, salary increases in general - with a five-year qualified assistant solicitor in the City earning £40,000-plus - were seen as an indication that a recovery was on the way.
Garrett & Co poached five partners and five associates from Leeds practice Simpson Curtis, while US firms Sidley & Austin, White & Case and Shook, Hardy & Bacon announced their intentions to expand in London.
In a trend that was to continue, the Brough Skerrett Partnership was formed to serve niche financial services industry clients. Mergers continued with Freeth Cartwright Hunt Dickins in Nottingham.
Following 27 redundancies earlier in the year, Turner Kenneth Brown went public by engaging accountants BDO Binder Hamlyn to search for and approach suitable merger partners. In May, they were in talks with Alsop Wilkinson, but these collapsed in July.
"Alsops has reluctantly decided that it is in the best interests of both practices to develop separately," read Alsops' statement.
Manches & Co linked up with Rubinstein Callingham Polden & Gale. Booth & Co were in merger talks with Addleshaw Sons & Latham, and Forsyte Saunders Kerman was formed. Titmuss Sainer & Webb joined up with US firm Dechert Price & Rhoads.
US practice Lord Day & Lord dissolved in the face of mounting costs, with most of its lawyers joining Morgan Lewis & Bockius.
The Banques Bruxelles Lambert case rolled on, and in the Lloyd's litigation the Gooda Walker case was set to break legal records.
Later in the year, the first Private Finance Initiative schemes had firms gearing up for the beauty parades.
The Law Society of Scotland led a revolt against huge increases in civil court fees.
Judges got a 15 per cent pay rise phased in over five years.
The Law Society was considering a complete overhaul of the conveyancing system, in particular separate representation for lender and borrower. The controversy this caused, however, was dwarfed in comparison to the hornet's nest which was stirred up by Martin Mears' maiden speech to the council.
Meanwhile across the Pond, the OJ Simpson trial trundled on with the only UK connection being the use of British information technology.
The Bar Council's policy unit launched a consultation exercise on direct access for lay clients. There was encouraging news for women at the Bar: nine of the 77 silks were women, compared with six out of 70 in 1993. The Bar was also discussing an Equal Opportunities Code.
The Scott Inquiry captured the headlines, with Sir Nicholas Lyell QC due to appear as the final witness.
Following the collapse of the Benzodiazepine cases, the calls for reform of how multiparty actions were handled were led by the Legal Aid Board.
Lord Mackay came under fire for his proposed divorce reforms, and partially restored cuts in legal aid eligibility. He later disbanded the Lord Chancellor's Department's (LCD's) legal aid advisory committee, two weeks after it criticised the LCD in its annual report, saying that the role of the committee had been taken over by the Legal Aid Board.
Even the LCD was not immune to cutbacks, with reports that up to 700 jobs would be shed up to 1997 in line with expenditure plans.
The European Court of Justice ruling on the UK's failure to implement the directive on worker consultation meant more work for employment lawyers.
Labour leader John Smith QC died of a heart attack in May.
Deacon Goldrein & Green collapsed following intervention by the Solicitors' Complaints Bureau.
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