• Women’s legal careers come under scrutiny

    Female solicitors were leaving the profession in their droves back in the late 1980s, said the Law Society’s working party on women’s careers.

    A special report found that only a fraction were reaching partnership, and this, combined with the lack of employment ­flexibility, was forcing women out.

    The report recommended employers to offer career break schemes, part-time work and tax relief for childcare and refresher courses. At the time the proposals were so radical as to be laughed at. Indeed, they were rejected by many of the elite firms.

    Mark Sheldon, who had recently been appointed senior partner at Linklaters & Paines, had little time for the proposals.
    “In a City firm the demands of clients can’t be satisfied on a part-time basis. It’s also difficult to keep up with essentially practical ­company law if you miss out on ­anything,” he was quoted as saying. “Women do not want concessions and firms would be better directed to retraining programmes.”

    But Sheldon overstepped the mark on the issue of discriminatory questioning in interviews. He described the questions as being “quite important. If someone’s going to leave after six months and we have to train them, then it’s very ­relevant.”

    This led Linda Packard, chair of the working party, to respond: “It’s ­unfortunate for the profession as a whole that the senior partner of Linklaters & Paines should be so out of step with the rest of the profession.
    “The working party emphasises the law on discriminatory questions at interviews, and in particular Section 6 (1) a of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the case of Gates v Wirral Council. I was somewhat surprised, therefore, to read Mr Sheldon’s comments. Is Mr Sheldon also out of step with the law?”

    Some, however, were already ahead of the game. Partner James Machintosh at Lawrence Graham had circulated a memo outlining “intentions of using the new technology in the future to open ways for women to work from their homes.”

    Sign of the times, part one
    Susan Freeman, a partner at Brecher & Co, said in April 1988 on her working life after her first child: “I had a fax machine and answer phone at home and an office on my top floor.

    “As far as clients were concerned it worked well. Things were not so great from my point of view. I could never switch off. At my daughter’s fourth birthday the children were arriving and I’d gone upstairs, where there was a message on the answer phone – it was very urgent and I was phoning round trying to find the client.

    “It would have been very much easier had I not had the answer phone and fax at home, because somebody else in the office could have dealt with it.”

    Sign of the times, part two
    In a survey of firms with numerous branch offices, Leigh Williams came top with 14, ­followed by Blakemores, Donne Mileham & Haddock and Linnells on 13, and Coffin Mew & Clover and Deacon Goldrein Green on 12 (Deacon Goldrein collapsed in the 1990s).

    Blakemores senior partner Roger Blakemore said: “Setting up the first 10 offices is the hardest. Now that we’ve got through that barrier there’s no reason why we shouldn’t go up to 50, theoretically. We feel now that we could go on to 50 or 70 offices within a relatively short period.”

    Bevan Ashford was found to have eight offices, the largest law firm in the UK outside London. “There are no arbitrary limits on how big we could grow,” said Neil Macdonald, Bevan Ashford’s ‘publicity consultant’.

    Mishcon makes the news
    In February City firm Bartletts de Reya ­disintegrated, leaving the entertainment and media group to joins Victor Mishcon and create Mishcon de Reya. Four other partners went to SJ Berwin and two to Rowe & Maw.

    Senior partner Denis Ross denied reports of a row. He said: “The break-up is largely attributable to the fact that we had a term partnership. It allowed people to reassess their positions.”

    The Lawyer begged to differ, citing
    “large-scale differentials in partners’ billings”.
    The following month Mishcon was in the news again in the form of Anthony Julius, before he shot to fame acting for Princess Diana. Back then Julius was acting for someone slighly more unsavoury. The Lawyer ran the story ‘Mishcon spearheads Maxwell legal blitz’, reporting on a series of libel actions for Robert Maxwell.

    Snotty comment of the year
    When Norton Rose published a report on building society conversions, Slaughter and May partner Nick Wilson said: “[Our firm does] not go in for reports. A firm like ours would take such a conversion in its stride.
    “I haven’t come across Norton Rose in
    relation to building societies and am slightly surprised about their report, as I didn’t realise they had the expertise.”

    Law firms: you can learn from this
    Excerpt from Linklaters & Paines’ authorised biography, quoted on The Lawyer’s diary page: “By 1970 the firm had several telex machines and soon after that began to employ an evening operator. He operated the telex from 5pm until 7.30 pm, when he closed down in order to get to the London Palladium in time to dance in the chorus.”

    Anthony Julius, Mishcon de Reya

    In 1988 Anthony Julius, a partner at Mishcon de Reya, got his first mention in The Lawyer on 24 March when it was ­reported that he was spearheading a “Maxwell legal blitz”.

    The young Julius was acting for tycoon Robert Maxwell on a series of libel actions against various authors and publishers.

    Maxwell was later exposed as a fraudster after his death in 1991; Julius himself gained lasting fame in the public eye when he represented Diana, Princess of Wales, on her divorce, and he also found time to pen a study of anti-Semitism in TS Eliot’s work.

    1988 was a big year for Julius’s firm, which was headed by the legendary Victor Mishcon. It had taken on some 15 media and entertainment partners from the disintegrating Bartletts de Reya earlier in the year.

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