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new book to chart rise of birmingham's legal community

Birmingham Law Society (BLS) has commissioned a book on the city’s legal profession to mark its bicentenary year.

Established in 1818 with 19 founder members, BLS is now the largest regional law society in the UK, with more than 4,000 members drawn from law firms and barristers’ chambers across the Midlands. 

Short histories of BLS were published to mark the organisation’s centenary and 150th anniversary. The new book will look not just at the history of the Society, but at the rise of the profession and the influence lawyers have had on the city. 

The book’s authors and editors are Dr Sally Hoban and Dr Malcolm Dick of the School of History and Cultures at the University of Birmingham. 

Dr Hoban is researching the publication using BLS’s extensive archives, now housed in the Library of Birmingham, following their move from the BLS Law Library, once the largest outside London. 

Sally has a PhD in history and lectures on history, art and design throughout the UK. She is a seasoned BBC broadcaster, writer and freelance journalist. 

She described the archive as being of “national significance”, providing a new perspective on the history of law in the provinces in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

“Themes coming out include diversity in the profession – BLS accepted its first female member in 1923 - the building of the Victoria Law Courts; and the social life of BLS and its member firms,” she added. 

“The impact of technology will also be examined. Minutes from 1883 reveal BLS committee members debating whether telephones would be useful to the profession. 

“The first telephone was installed in the County Court in December of that year. The ‘instrument’ had its own room and a dedicated clerk paid £20 per annum to mind it. What a world away from today’s exponentially developing communications technology!”

The book will be published later this year in both hardback and paperback formats, and will kick-start a year of planned celebrations in 2018. 

John Hughes, president of Birmingham Law Society, said: “In 1818 ‘mad’ King George was on the throne, a stage coach journey from Birmingham – London took in excess of 15 hours and the death penalty had just been lifted for shoplifting, though transportation was still an option. 

“Our bicentenary book will provide a fascinating record of BLS’s journey over the last two centuries, and the influence of lawyers and the legal profession had as Birmingham grew to become a great industrial city, reinventing itself as a professional services and cultural hub.”

Andrew Beedham of Clarke Willmott takes up the presidency of BLS from April 2017 for 12 months; James Turner will be in the seat from April 2018. 

Call for information: If you have information that might help the BLS historians with the book, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with details.

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Dr Sally Hoban with James Turner, Deputy Vice President of Birmingham Law Society