The Law Society election fiasco
Take an alleged sexual harasser, a feminist, a populist and a liberal. Add the first presidential elections in 40 years to an organisation that was badly in need of reform, and what do you get? The Law Society election fiasco of 1995.
The society’s vice-president John Young had been standing as the official candidate. However, it subsequently emerged that Young had been responsible for incidents of sexual harassment two years previously, after a letter between him and Law Society president Charles Elly was leaked. Young admitted to what he referred to as “minor” incidents, which he regarded “as closed”.
The episode generated intense anger from Eileen Pembridge, a senior partner at South London practice Fisher Meredith and the first-ever female candidate to the post. Young, the establishment candidate, was forced to withdraw in April of that year. His decision to back out paved the way for Michael Mears, a senior partner at Norfolk firm Mears Hobbs & Durrant, who was standing on an anti-Chancery Lane ticket. Mears lambasted Pembridge, accusing her of “sanctimonious and pitiless” tactics in seeking to bring the sexual harassment allegations to light.
The events highlighted how the society was prepared to turn a blind eye to Young’s abuse of his position. When Pembridge had contacted office-holders of the society to raise her concerns on Young’s earlier appointment to deputy vice-president, “the then office-holders said they were prepared to take the risk; they felt it would not materialise”, she said.
Mears soon came out in front, buoyed up by the regional high street vote, which was frustrated with the politically correct metropolitan elite. “The nice chaps have tried and failed. It’s time to give the mean men a chance,” he wrote in the May edition of Anglian Lawyer, a local independent he edited.
His response included proposals to more than halve the number of LPC places to deal with oversupply and eliminate quotas and targets introduced to tackle sexual and racial discrimination. He also wanted to remove sexual orientation from the society’s anti-discrimination code, saying there was no evidence it was a problem in the profession.
The other contender was Henry Hodge, deputy vice-president of the society and senior partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, who pledged to fight legal aid reform plans. With his candidacy the liberal-left vote was split and Mears emerged victorious with 11,550 votes, while Hodge and Pembridge polled 8,254 and 3,515 votes respectively.
Clyde & Co partner slams macho tactics
With the Woolf reforms looming, Sheila Simison of Clyde & Co called for a more thoughtful approach to litigation in the Commercial Court.
She noted that so great was the concern that a meeting was called to discuss how to deal with the decline in conduct and 90 per cent of the firms using the Commercial Court were represented.
“The Master of the Rolls reminded the audience that we all had a duty to maintain the standards of civilised behaviour and we were engaged in the pursuit of justice in the interests of our clients,” she said. “Some of our more macho litigators may do well to reflect this.”
Meanwhile, Lord Woolf published his Access to Justice report.
Woolf’s attempt at rectifying the problems facing civil justice were published in the spring of 1995. His proposals would shake up litigation – and litigators – and give the court a more interventionist role.
The year’s mergers and splits
– Birmingham-based Pinsent & Co merges with Leeds firm Simpson Curtis to become Pinsent Curtis.
– Eversheds merges with London mid-tier firm Jaques & Lewis for its first major boost in the City.
– Nabarro finally takes over a fatally wounded Turner Kenneth Brown (TKB) – but not before four TKB partners attempt a partnership winding-up order before the merger.
– Radcliffes merges with Crossman Block.
– Nicholson Graham & Jones merges with Brecher & Co.
– Irwin Mitchell takes over Teeman Levine in Leeds.
– Charles Russell’s Swindon office goes solo and becomes Clark Holt.
Dibbs: very tough
In one of the first publicised partnership culls in City law firm history, Dibb Lupton Broomhead fired 11 partners in April 1995 as part of a firmwide restructuring.
How awfully quaint
Clifford Chance was the first law firm to set up a website – or, as The Lawyer termed it in 1995, “an internet-based information server on the World Wide Web (WWW). The WWW allows internet users to retrieve multimedia information on ‘home pages’, which can hold graphics, motion and sound files in addition to text.”
Clifford Chance partner Christopher Millard said that, within 48 hours of connection, the firm had received feedback from Australia and New Zealand.
A Lovells pioneer
Lesley Macdonagh became the first female managing partner of a top 10 City firm when she took over at Lovells in 1995.
A property partner, Macdonagh joined the firm in 1978 and became partner in 1981. Within two months of her election, Lovells had set up a Chicago office handling insurance and reinsurance litigation.
She would later steer the firm through its merger with German practice Boesebeck Droste.
Maurice Allen, Weil Gotshal
Few lawyers have made quite as many waves as Maurice Allen – especially when he launched the London practice of New York firm Weil Gotshal.
Weil had long had an interest in the UK market and a relationship with Nabarro Nathanson. But Allen’s arrival (he had been a young Turk at Clifford Chance) in 1995 meant that the New York firm was going head-to-head with City practices for top-level finance advisory work.
Allen’s legendary persuasive- ness netted Weil dozens of lawyers, many talent-spotted and plucked out of the senior associate and junior partner ranks of the magic circle. Weil was the birthplace of the careers of finance luminaries such as Erica Handling and Helen Burton at Ashurst, Michelle Duncan at Cadwalader, Sean Pierce at Freshfields and James Chesterman at Latham.
But Allen’s independent tendencies did not go down so well with New York. By the end of the decade he was on his way out, finally finding a safer berth at White & Case, leaving Weil under M&A star Mike Francies and refashioning itself as a corporate boutique.