Accountants try their hand at the law
By far the most significant strategic move in 1993 was by Arthur Andersen, which finally set up its long-threatened legal arm. It hired Colin Garrett, former solicitor at 3i, as a first move towards what the accountancy giant hoped would be a globally dominant multi-disciplinary partnership (MDP).
The very concept of MDPs was still a controversial one. Andersen’s softly-softly approach was therefore to link up the associated legal practice, named Garretts, with its existing legal allies on the Continent, such as SG Archibald in Paris.
Andersen UK managing partner Roy Chapman sought to downplay the move, telling The Lawyer: “There’s some danger that this move might be overemphasised. It’s a very small move indeed.” However, the legal profession was wary.
On Andersen’s move, Clifford Chance partner Derham O’Neill commented: “It might shake some law firms out of their complacency.”
And what of the man charged with setting up the Andersen legal arm? Colin Garrett was far removed from the typical Andersen clone: his interests including making and playing violins in his spare time.
“It’s an opportunity to do something without any compromises. Most of life, even in law, is a compromise, certainly in business,” he told The Lawyer that year. “If I’m fitting a bridge and I go wrong, I chuck it in the bin and start again. It’s got to be right.”
The Andersen Legal experiment eventually collapsed in 2002 in the wake of Enron, but by that time it had snared a serious operator as managing partner, in the form of Tony Williams from Clifford Chance, and had grown to 163 lawyers in the UK and had a turnover of £33m.
It had also spawned copycat operations by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers (Arnheim & Co), KPMG (KLegal) and Ernst & Young (EY Law/Tite & Lewis).
Unfortunately, Enron and Andersen had knock-on effects on all the accountancy-tied firms. By 2003 they had effectively died a death. The MDP dream was over.
The recession continued to bite. Early in the year Simmons & Simmons became the latest major City firm to make its lawyers redundant, with 20 slated to go. Simmons’ reticence to admit this was entirely common at the time; most firms refused to comment on the issue. The leader column in The Lawyer that week was trenchant. “It is only the rare CIty firm – Theodore Goddard is a striking example – which bites the bullet cleanly and says what it is doing, as businesses all over the country are finding they have to do,” it said.
By July other major City firms were also feeling the pinch. On 27 July The Lawyer reported that one in 10 assistants were to leave Norton Rose following a redundancy round.
The gloom was compounded by the slowdown in trainee recruitment. For three years there was an effective pay freeze as the top City pay stuck at £18,500 and the average regional pay topped out at £13,900.
Among the top 10 City firms, the total number of trainee places offered dropped from 775 in September 1990 to 725 in 1991, 706 in September 1992 and 575 in May 1993.
Solicitor makes the High Court
In 1993 Michael Sachs became the first solicitor to sit on the High Court bench. A former partner at Manchester commercial firm Slater Heelis (now part of Cobbetts), he handled general crime, family and professional indemnity work.
In 1977 he became a deputy circuit judge and a recorder in 1980. Four years later he joined the Northern Circuit and was also a Law Society Council member from 1979 to 1984.
Sachs was involved in setting up the duty solicitor scheme in its early days and on negotiations on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
An ardent Manchester United supporter, papal knight and heavy smoker (prompting early Manchester jokes that there would be regular adjournments), Sachs admitted to struggling with the geography of the Royal Courts.
“Finding your way round is a challenge of grotesque proportions,” he confessed.
The plain speaking award
Davies Arnold Cooper (DAC) unveiled a cost charter – a radically transparent move when talking frankly about charge-out rates was regarded as the height of rudeness.
DAC senior partner David McIntosh said: “There’s no secrecy, there’s no mystery. Legal fees and legal workings aren’t some black hole into which our clients can’t look.”
Lovell White Durrant and Denton Hall were the first UK firms to go fully operational in China in 1993, following their successful licence applications the previous year.
The first batch of 10 successful firms also included six from Hong Kong, one from France and one from the US, Coudert.
Splits and mergers
– Clifford Chance splits from Frankfurt ally Gleiss Lutz
– Frere Cholmeley merges with Bischoff & Co
– Bird Semple splits from Fyfe Ireland
– Hammonds merges with Ellison & Partners
Geraldine McCool, Pannone
Geraldine McCool, a Pannone partner (now at MPH Solicitors, which in 2007 won Niche Firm of the Year at The Lawyer Awards) became a high-profile spokesperson for claimant solicitors after her work on the Chinook helicopter disaster and the Piper Alpha oil rig fire, as well as for victims of the Nepal air crash.
She told The Lawyer in April: “No matter how many you do, you don’t become immune to the whole process. There’s always at least something in the first interview where a shiver goes down your spine.”
She poured scorn on the allegation that claimant lawyers were profiting from client misery. “A client needs a lawyer. You’re not going to put Joe Bloggs against multinational corporations who employ City people at an hourly rate.”
And on situations where costs have been cut at the expense of safety, she said: “I’m quite interested in the way those decisions are made, not just from the legal point of view, but how people can cut corners and then go home to their wife and 2.4 kids.”