Two decades of change

Here’s a confession. For the past few weeks I’ve been reading every single issue of The Lawyer ever published. This isn’t some bout of deranged masochism, rather it is in preparation for our 20th anniversary special next month and for 2008, when we turn 21.

Actually, the exercise has been wholly absorbing; if you spend your working life reporting on a dynamic market, it’s vital to have a proper historical understanding of it.

The practice of law has changed more in two decades than in the previous two centuries. In the late 1980s there was clamour around the impending Courts & Legal Services Bill – a hugely important reform. Twenty years on, the Legal Services Bill has just received Royal Assent.

To illustrate how radical that shift is, I’ll remind you that just 10 years ago the then president of the Law Society Tony Girling advocated the idea of part-flotation of law firms during an international bar conference. He was howled down.

Now? You can buy shares in Australian-listed Slater & Gordon and firms such as Irwin Mitchell and RJW are already gearing up to take advantage of alternative business structures. This development will be as significant as the emergence of the global elite during the late 1990s.

When I began as a cub reporter in 1990, the biggest news of the year was Norton Rose teaming up with five regional firms to form the Norton Rose M5 alliance, Nabarro Nathanson announcing an exclusive link with Weil Gotshal & Manges, the launch of Doughty Street Chambers, and Dibb Lupton (now DLA Piper) opening in London through a takeover.

The first two moves may have proved to be fabulously misconceived, but both defined the market at the time. The latter two moves were considerably longer-lasting.

As part of our celebrations, we’re publishing The Lawyer Hall of Fame next month. We’ve already drawn up a long list through our research, but we want your thoughts too – you can email me or post them on

We don’t just want the big billers, by the way – that would be lazy thinking. We’re canvassing for a list of pioneers, innovators, and campaigners; the lawyers who have actually changed the way the law is practised. Time for some of the unsung heroes to take a bow.

Catrin Griffiths, editor