1. What is the Solicitors’ Company?
The City of London Solicitor’s Company is one of the City of London’s 111 Livery Companies. Some of the most ancient Companies can trace their origins to associations of merchants and craftspeople which were in existence prior to the 13th
Century, but, formed as a company in 1908 and being granted ‘Livery’ status in 1944, we are the second oldest of the 33 “modern” livery companies.
Whether ancient or modern, the underlying principle of all livery companies is timeless. They continue, in innovative ways, to do what they have done for all of their history - supporting their trades and members. In the past, many livery companies regulated their trade and some, e.g. Apothecaries and Spectacle Makers, still do. Whilst our livery company has never regulated its members, it has always sought to have a voice on matters affecting solicitors working in the City, and promoted their interests and collegiality among them. The ancient liveries supported members who fell on hard times, or provided for widows and children of members. Now direct charity to members is rare and giving is directed through benevolent funds supporting all members of the linked trade or profession, but there is a fundamental link between livery companies and charitable giving – before a company or association can apply to be a livery company it must have a charitable fund worth at least £300,000.
The other essential bond of the livery companies is with the City of London Corporation and the governance of the City of London. For the past several centuries, twice a year (Midsummers’ Day in June and Michaelmas Day in September), all who have held the Livery in the 111 Companies for more than 12 months, are summoned to Guildhall for meetings called Common Hall. Amongst other business transacted at these meetings, the Livery elect the two Sheriffs of the City of London and choose two candidates, one of which the Aldermen must elect as Lord Mayor. The Livery also plays a prominent part in the City’s major events.
2. Is that the same as the City of London Law Society (the “CLLS”)?
No, we are separate from the CLLS but we are sibling organisations, sharing common origins. The CLLS is the local law society for City Solicitors and its specialist committees have reputations which are second to none in their technical fields. The close links we have with the CLLS are mutually beneficial, with us providing the charitable organisation and social events which are part of many of the smaller local law societies around the country.
3. Can anyone join the Solicitors’ Company?
Some livery companies have lost the professional/trade connection to their Company - there are no longer any Farriers or Long Bow Makers working in the City. But we still have two criteria for membership – to join us you must be/have been a solicitor and must practise/have practised in the City of London or Canary Wharf. You need not be in private practice, however. We welcome in-house lawyers, as well as solicitors working for government and the armed forces among our members.
4. What does the Solicitors’ Company stand for?
Our guiding principles are integrity, collegiality and charity. These principles are “lived” in a number of ways. For example:
- Integrity - we promote "honourable conduct" and take a keen interest in the welfare and development of our profession (e.g. through our "Food for Thought" series of seminars and our annual Master's Lecture).
- Collegiality - we are inclusive, welcoming a diverse membership giving everyone opportunities to socialise and network across the profession and the City (e.g. through our strong relationships with other livery companies and the City Corporation).
- Charity - our charitable fund supports charities with a connection to the City and/or the profession, with an emphasis on access to justice and social mobility, with our aim being to encourage and extend that "giving" through the individual donations of our members. Our Educational Trust runs two projects: one which supports students from under-represented and socially mobile backgrounds who aspire to become lawyers, by providing them with work experience, mentoring and training during their time at university; and, alongside the CLLS, a project, known as SWSQF, aimed at providing funding for people working in social welfare law organisations to receive training and sit the Solicitors Qualifying Exam to effectively “make” more social welfare solicitors.
5. What activities does the Solicitors’ Company organise?
We aim to organise the type of events and activities that our members may not get the opportunity to participate in as private individuals and, through our Social and Events Committee, we encourage members to let us know what events would interest them.
Livery Companies have always been associated with dining and we run at least two ‘big’ dinner events each year to which members may bring personal or professional guests – A Banquet at Mansion House and a Black Tie event at one of the Livery Halls. In addition, there are at least two less formal opportunities per year to dine at the Livery Hall, where our Court of Assistants (the equivalent of the Board of Directors) meets, and there are at least three opportunities for lunches shared with other livery companies. In addition, courtesy of our Honorary Chaplain, the Reverend Canon Roger Hall, we hold an annual service at St Peter ad Vincula, one of the Chapels Royal inside the Tower of London which is followed by supper.
Our aim to promote professional development takes the form of twice yearly ethics events, which give an opportunity to wrestle with issues facing the profession, while enjoying the surroundings of a Livery Hall and fellowship with members of other livery companies, especially those of the Financial Services Group of Livery Companies (FSG), with which we have a very close relationship. Our annual Master’s Lecture is given on a topic of general interest to members and we regularly join with one of the other FSG Companies to run a joint event of interest to both Companies.
We organise walking tours, visits to sites of historical significance, quizzes, wine tastings, general lectures and will make up groups to attend events organised by other groups e.g. the Sheriffs’ Ball and military pageants on Horse Guards Parade. Finally, our members are often invited to attend events organised by other livery companies, so the problem might be finding the time to attend everything.
6. What about connections outside the Company?
On some issues all livery companies work together. These are called the Pan-Livery Initiatives and include the Livery Skills Council, Livery Schools Link, Livery Climate Action Group, Livery Communications Group and the Livery Charity Chairs Group. We also participate in a number of fact-sharing projects, aimed at spreading the good news about livery companies e.g. the Pan-Livery Philanthropy Survey, which brings together information about financial and pro bono giving by members of the Livery.
On a slightly smaller scale, we have the closest connections, and the most in common, with the other members of the FSG. The other livery companies in this Group are Chartered Accountants, Actuaries, Insurers, Arbitrators, International Bankers, Tax Advisers, World Traders, Chartered Surveyors, Marketors, Chartered Secretaries and Management Consultants. The Entrepreneurs and the Guild of Investment Managers also attend meetings as observers. We often hold joint events with these Companies.
Most livery companies have links with the armed forces. For us, this means a special relationship with the Army and RAF Legal Services, as well enjoying connections with 71st
London Irish Rifle Cadet Detachment, based in Camberwell. The Cadets provide a guard of honour at our Banquet and Livery Dinner, as well as joining us to participate in the Lord Mayor’s Show. We provide financial support for the highlight of their year, their Annual Camp, which takes place during the school summer holidays and we aim to organise an event of interest to the young people during the year.
7. Does it cost a lot to join?
There is a perception that membership is expensive. Like all organisations we need to cover our costs, but we aim to keep our charges at reasonable levels and offer free events as well as ones for which we have to charge.
Currently, our quarterage (the annual membership fee) is £275pa, and the cost of recent events has ranged from free, for online lectures and seminars; through £15 for an online tea-tasting event; £36 for an online painting tutorial to £135 for our Livery Dinner, a Black Tie Dinner held recently in the glittering surroundings of Goldsmiths’ Hall (in 2021) and the more modern surroundings (in 2022) of Haberdashers’ Hall.
We do also expect our members to personally contribute to our Charitable Fund. Individual charitable giving is part and parcel of livery company life, across the livery movement and essentially its part of the social contract of joining us. It would not be fair for members to enjoy the benefits of membership without also expecting to donate to our fund and through that to support the charitable causes we commit to.
8. Could I get involved in helping to run the Solicitors’ Company
Yes, we want as many of our members to be active in the running of the Company as possible.
The remits of our Committees are wide-ranging and we have recently increased the number of members on each of them giving plenty of opportunities to get involved. In addition, there are periodically ad hoc initiatives with which we need help from our members. One example of this is the ED&I Working Group we formed to draft the Company’s first engagement survey, which was sent to members in 2021.
The first step to full membership of the Company is to apply for the Freedom of the Company. A short ceremony in front of the Court, usually with others being admitted at the same time, marks entry into the Company. Once “Free of the Company” they may apply for the Freedom of the City of London, which means joining a historic group going back to mid-13th
Century. People of all nationalities are welcome to apply for the Freedom of the City and it’s a lovely way to mark a connection with this great City. Once admitted to the Freedom of the City we hope that Freemen* will go on to take the Livery and receive all the rights and privileges of the Company. Those who have been admitted to the Livery are eligible for election to the Court and may ultimately become an Officer of the Company, including becoming Master. We want future Court members to be Liverymen who are active within the Company (which can take a range of forms) and have a real contribution to make to the life and future development of the Company.
(* Although the terms Freeman and Liveryman are used to denote membership throughout the livery movement they do not denote gender. Likewise the term Master, signifying the “Chair” of the Court of Assistants, is used irrespective of gender. The Solicitors’ Company has always admitted women to the Freedom and to the Livery.)
9. Join and improve the balance of our membership!
Bring your ideas for improving our "offer" and help us make the Company the apogee of a modern livery company.