Time has not changed for everyone involved

The turn of the 21st Century happened to co-incide with my firm's 21st anniversary. Forgive me, therefore, if I indulge in a little introspection about the changes I have seen since 1979.

I'm not talking about the technological changes, though I am typing this piece on my laptop and when I have finished it, I will transmit it, via my mobile telephone and the internet, to The Lawyer.

This process would have seemed like science fiction in 1979. For one thing, it was unheard of for a solicitor to do his (or her) own typing.

More importantly, in those days, a middle aged male solicitor would probably have written the preceding sentence without the politically correct parenthetical. In 1979, the practice of corporate law in the major City law firms and at the bar was almost exclusively a white male preserve.

At the dawn of the third millennium, women and members of some ethnic minorities are increasingly taking up their rightful positions at the heart of corporate practice. But we have no grounds for complacency.

I can count on one finger the number of Afro Caribbean lawyers I have come across in the course of handling corporate transactions.

I see talented women leaving practice because, as a profession, despite our love affair with the fax, the modem and the conference call, we have not yet worked out how to combine home-working and corporate law. And the racial and gender profiles of the Commercial Court and Companies Court benches are scarcely distinguishable from their 1979 counterparts.

This is not only manifestly unjust, but is a waste of talent. Correcting the injustice and ending the waste should be a priority for the entire profession.

Twenty one years ago, a city solicitor's career pattern was pretty predictable. Partnership was for life – or at least until normal retirement date.

These days, judging by what we see in the pages of The Lawyer, the typical partners' dining room should be equipped with a revolving door and restyled “the departure lounge”.

Even the gentleman's agreement that prevented the magic circle firms from poaching each other's partners has gone.

While the old fogey within me regrets the passing of inertial loyalty, I recognise that the new mobility compels firms that want to retain their best people to provide an attractive career path, reward structure and working environment.

In 1979 “touting” was a striking-offence on a par with stealing the client account. If I had written this article 21 years ago, my by-line might have identified me as “a solicitor practising in London”. It would not have mentioned the name of my firm. Now every law firm seems to have a marketing department and a website.

However, some things don't change. Providing a first class service is still the best way to attract new business. And then there's the question of size. In 1979, a small firm had five or less partners and a big firm had 20 or more. The ones in the middle were medium sized.

I had set my heart on working in a small firm that handled the quality of work normally reserved for big ones.

Fortunately, the goal posts have moved in step with the growth of my firm and in the brave new world of the third millennium, at 18 partners we are still a small firm.