New research: Law Society’s relationship with historical slavery and colonialism

We are commissioning research to investigate and document the Law Society’s relationship with historical slavery and colonialism.

We would like to understand the extent to which the organisation may have supported, financed, facilitated or benefitted – either directly or indirectly – from historic slavery and colonialism through its activities during the 19th and early 20th century.

The Law Society received its current Royal Charter in 1845, but its earliest origins date from 2 June 1825, when resolutions were passed at the first ever general meeting to establish the 'Law Institution', which had as its principal objective to raise money to erect “a suitable public building” in Chancery Lane or in the immediate vicinity of the Inns of Court.

In the same time period, there was a pre-existing membership body called the Society of Gentlemen Practisers (founded in 1739) created to protect the interests and enhance the conduct of the profession.

The organisation took on a similar but much smaller role to the Law Society today – lobbying parliament, government and the judiciary to further the interests of the profession, protect public interest, defend the profession from competitors, and taking collective action to maintain the standards of behaviour and status of the profession.

The Society of Gentlemen Practisers never numbered more than 200 and was not able to continue alongside the Law Institution. It eventually ceased to exist around 1832, although the date is uncertain as they never formally disbanded.

The Law Institution then became the ‘Incorporated Law Society’ after the grant of its first Royal Charter in 1831. The Incorporated Law Society then began to adjudicate upon, codify and publish ‘best practice’ on questions such as professional etiquette, conveyancing and costs. Almost 200 years later, the Law Society continues to represent the solicitor profession.

Our research, which will involve an investigation of historical documents, archives and the Law Society’s own collection, will document the relationship of the organisation and its key figures with historical slavery and colonialism. The research was proposed by the Law Society’s Black and minority ethnic (BAME) network and will be overseen by a steering group of members of the network and staff interested in the project from across the business.

We will share and discuss the report findings in autumn 2021.

If you’re interested in this piece of work and would like to be kept informed of its progress, provide your contact details via our form, or email Joanne Cox.

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