11th May 2016

Happy Anniversary one and all

As we celebrate the founding of Berwins 30 years ago this month, I find myself reminiscing about what events of note happened in 1986, both public and personal and thinking - have things changed for the better in the legal world? Here’s a selection of memorable (and infamous) events:

  1. Gary Lineker became Britain’s most expensive football transfer in a £2.75m move from Everton Barcelona, only for that record to go 24 hours later when Ian Rush moved from Liverpool to Juventus for £3.1m. A month earlier, Lineker won the Golden Boot at the Mexico World Cup as the competition’s leading scorer and (inevitably) England were put out of the competition by the Hand of God, a.k.a cheating Argentine Diego Maradona, who went on to lift the trophy;
  2. The MetroCentre shopping complex, the largest in Europe, opened in Gateshead;
  3. The highest audience of all time (30 million) watched the Christmas Day episode of Eastenders as “Dirty Den” served divorce papers on wife Angie (Stephen Root, wasn’t acting for either I believe);
  4. Inevitably there were disasters. The space shuttle Challenger blew up 73 seconds after take-off, killing all 7 crew and the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Russia exploded killing hundreds (and later through radiation) thousands.
  5. Alex Ferguson was appointed Manchester United manager. (I wonder what happened to him?);
  6. The M25 London orbital motorway, designed to alleviate and reduce congestion on the capital’s roads (!), opened;
  7. And, on a personal level, Mrs W. would not thank me for omitting what was (obviously) the most important event of 1986 – our wedding on 6th September in Llanblethian Church, near Cowbridge in South Wales. (Yep, it’s our 30th this year as well – Pearl I believe)

In 1986 I was in my first year, post-qualification, as an assistant solicitor at a firm in Leeds, doing a mixture of town & country planning and commercial property work. No smart phones, tablets or even mobile phones and no computers, but my secretary did have the latest electric typewriter. The nearest we had to technology was the telex machine, which would not have looked out of place at Bletchley Park.

So are we better off now? Well yes and no but, first, I want to go back even further, perhaps some 30 years to the 1950s. One of my older colleagues at the firm where I was a partner before Berwins once told me of a time when he was a young solicitor and the partner for whom he worked had a very different typical day: Arrive shortly after 9am, read the morning post, ask his secretary to come into his office and take down some shorthand dictation, make a few calls and perhaps undertake a little drafting work. At lunchtime he would stroll to his club – The Manchester Club at the top of King Street in Manchester – and, over a 3 course lunch with a glass of claret, discuss the topics of the day with fellow professionals – bankers, accountants, barristers and the like. Then, mid-afternoon, he would either stroll back to the office or, if work was light, his secretary (or more likely a clerk) would come to him at the Club with his post on a silver salver for him to sign. Oh how I wish!

There’s no doubt that that the advances in technology have had a dramatic effect on the way we do business in 2016 as compared with 1986. Deals can be and are (mostly) done much more quickly. No longer do we have those long negotiation meetings, which used to take place after the original draft document had passed back and forth between solicitors with red, blue, green & brown manuscript amendments, having reached the point when they were barely legible. I certainly don’t miss those. Yes, those meetings in 1986 were entertaining at times, but were they good for the clients? No, probably not. They were expensive and time consuming. Now we can agree documents in hours and days rather than weeks and months.

It’s not all good news though. Communication is instant, but often anonymous, we do sometimes lose the personal touch and the technology can make us lazy. (Go on, ask yourself how many times you have e-mailed a colleague who is only yards away rather than getting off your backside?)

So which do I prefer – being a lawyer in 1986 or 2016? Well the answer is easy – I enjoyed being a lawyer in 1986 – eager, fresh faced, innocent & naïve, with all the challenges of that time – and I enjoy being a lawyer now in 2016 – not so fresh faced, but experienced and still willing to learn, but I would love to have given 1956 a try!

Happy Anniversary one and all.

Richard Wheeldon


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