Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Law Society Gazette Centenary Dinner


Royal Lancaster Hotel, Hyde Park

Wednesday 12th November 2003
 
The Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers

Attorney General’s Chambers

9 Buckingham Gate
London

SW1E 6JP

Tel: 020 7271 2400

E-mail: lslo@gtnet.gov.uk

 

What can you say about the Law Society Gazette?

 

What it shows is that Solicitors are – and always have been – at the heart of this country’s economy and society.  Whether in town or country –

at home or abroad,

in business or in public service  -

in country town or big city

 

 – the 100 years of the Gazette provide an extraordinary insight into the changes in our country and into solicitors’ central role in those changes

 

And for a hundred years, the Gazette has played a central role in the lives of solicitors.

 

It was in 1970 when I got my first Law Society Gazette.

 

Indeed when you first ascend to membership of the Law Society the first tangible evidence that you are on the road to being a solicitor is when your own free copy of the Law Society Gazette arrives.

 

I’m afraid to say that in my case –  while I whiled away my articles of clerkship smoking in the post room of  the firm of  Knapp Fishers  – avoiding,  probate and conveyancing duties  -  my Law Society Gazette – full of  professional gossip as well as job ads - was the only evidence that I had any connection at all with the legal profession.

 

But you can rely on the Law Society Gazette – certainly you can rely on the ads reminding you that everyone else in the legal profession is on the way up and paid more – much more - than you are.

 

And you can rely on the Gazette for a sharp, and often critical eye, on the legal profession.  It’s worth reading because it’s independent.

 

You’ve done me – and my office of Solicitor General – a great honour in inviting me to speak to you tonight.  So I’ve been browsing some back issues.

 

.And they show how the profession itself has changed

 

The gazette of 1904 reveals, in the “Partnerships wanted” section, what it took then to make it into the solicitors profession.

 
“Junior partnership desired by public school and university man”

 

“Partnership required by solicitor admitted 1900. public school man”

 

and, even more reassuringly,

 

“willing worker, in his 24th year, to be admitted Feb 1904 Old Lancing Boy” and

 

“Solicitor admitted 1894 sees clerkship with or without view to partnership(Old Marlburian)

 

 

To be a solicitor it was certainly preferable if you had been to public school.  It was best not to have reached 25. And you had to be a man.

 

I’m very pleased that the gazette has invited here tonight, my mother Anna Harman.  Last Sunday, when we were discussing tonight’s event, she told me that when she was one of only 3 women undergraduates reading law at Oxford – most of the tutors refused to teach the women. Regarding it as just a complete waste of time.  Many would not even allow the 3 women in their lectures.  No-one in Oxford would teach them criminal law so a criminal law tutor had to be brought all the way down from Manchester to teach them.

 

In the 1970s – when I was first qualifying – the position had changed – but not that much.

 

And a Gazette of the early 70s ad in the “position wanted” column contained this sad plea

 

“male, with part 11, apparently handicapped in quest for articles by age (28 years) seeks firm in Coventry which can triumph over such an insuperable obstacle”

 

The only hope for those who would otherwise be regarded as just too old at 30 -  comes in the ad from a firm in Lewes in Sussex

 

“Baker son and Young seek competent assistant for probate trusts and conveyancing.  Would consider older person seeking quieter life.”

 

And  I remember painfully well when I looked in the gazette  for jobs in my last year of my articles – 1974 – that though I was not facing the unsuperable obstacle of age – I was only 24 -  the gazette was full of ads that clearly did not have me in mind for the job.

 

Such as that for the Hampshire solicitors which  promised

 

“top salary for the right man”

 

Or the property division of what described itself as a large and well known group of companies which promised a company car as well as a prestige office in W1 for

 

“the right man”

 

Through the Gazette -you can chart the welcome and long overdue changes in the legal profession. Opening up access to the legal profession is not only right in principle but allows the profession to draw on the talents of all and for the profession to more closely reflect a society which is multi-cultural and where women regard themselves as equal to men.

 

But it was a struggle and we need to step up the pace of change.

 

That’s why I strongly support the Law Society and the Bar Council’s efforts to widen access to the legal profession and I’m pleased, that as Solicitor General, I have been able to introduce – with the full support of the Law Society, Bar Council, ILEX and the colleges of Law, the CPS Law Scholarship scheme.

 

The CPS Law Scholarship scheme offers to Crown Prosecution Service admin and clerical staff – most of whom have no post school qualifications - 100% bursaries and time off to take A levels and go on through a degree and the professional qualifications to become a lawyer.

 

And I hope that  the excellent appointment of Brenda Hale as  the first woman judge in the judicial committee of the House of Lords – will herald further change as the new judicial appointments system will ensure that we have a judiciary which is both excellent and diverse and which reflects society as it is today.

 

 

Reading the gazette you realise how long it takes the profession to change and to break down barriers.

    * The desire of solicitors to be advocates is reflected in the Gazette of June 1904.

    * The determination of solicitors to move into the judiciary is there in the Gazette of January 1972.

And we are still trying to build on that with more solicitors getting rights of audience and sitting as judges.

 

Some issues which are prominent in current the political agenda have long been featured in the Gazette.

 

The 1904 gazette reflects the longstanding commitment of the profession to legal education – but in exasperation well recognisable a century later through gritted teeth explains

“The society’s scheme, however, also assumes that the articled clerk will not leave the whole of his reading until a few weeks before his examination”

 

The 1970 Gazette reported the establishment and first meeting of the Human Rights Group of Solicitors - a full 30 years before the introduction of the Human Rights Act.

 

Also in the 1970s the first ads appeared for solicitors for the new community Law Centres – as radical lawyers argued for access for all to legal services.

 

And issues such as domestic violence and tackling human trafficking have a new priority in the pages of the Gazette

 

And, of course there is coverage of the debate around the modernising of our constitution to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and make clear its separation from government..

 

Many of the changes in the legal profession are long overdue.  But some things don’t change.  Two things that run through the last 100 years of the Gazette.  First is the disappointment that solicitors find themselves to be unpopular.  But second is the relief of solicitors that though they are deeply unpopular – there are those who are even more unpopular - -  barristers.

 

Lord Goodman explains in an interview with the gazette of January 1972 why this is the case

 

The bar has a coy terror of the human race.  This is because of the monastic atmosphere in which they live, work and play”

 

His solution for this was the fusion of the legal profession which he says would produce

 

“A marked economy and a simplification of legal practices.”

 

Meanwhile, there is no need, no need at all, for us solicitors to lack confidence in our advocacy skills – we can hold our own alongside the bar – when we get the chance. The point is to get the argument right.

 

I  remember when I was a young solicitor at the Brent Law Centre a planning appeal, in which residents were objecting to a factory which wanted to get permission to work their noisy machinery all night and thereby make the residents lives a misery.

 

The factory owner spared no expense  - and  was represented by counsel.

The local tenants had no money  - and were represented by me.

 

And counsel was not one of the nice ones.  He was, I’m afraid - full of himself.  I was quaking with fear as those around him warned me he was exceptionally clever and he was clearly going to win.

 

He argued  - in clipped tones - that priority should be given to the factory owner’s profits  

I argued – in quavering tones - that priority should be given to the local community.

 

The counsel in that case was Michael Howard.  He lost and I won – and I’d say to this day he’s still on the wrong side of the argument.

 

 

I’m glad to see so many of you here tonight for this dinner and I hope you enjoy the rest of this evening.    Dinners have always been important for lawyers.  The minutes of the Law Society pre 1810 remind us that dining was serious.  But NOT dining was a still more serious thing  -  for the following entry in the minutes is found coupled with the names of two members who had declined to take dinner tickets.  Their names were recorded and alongside it was noted in the minutes

 

“resolved, that they be no longer members of the Society”

 

But you’re all here, you’ve bought your tickets. And tonight we can all look forward to the next 100 years of the Law Society Gazette.

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