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Lights out

Publishing a weekly magazine is an all-consuming, relentless affair; for a small team like us, it was part of our lives, writes Jean-Yves Gilg

25 September 2017

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Few Victorian periodicals have survived into the 21st century. The Economist, The Spectator, and Nature are among the better known, along with Drapers, Estates Gazette, and The Lady. Until two weeks ago, Solicitors Journal was one of them too. At the end of this month, however, after 160 years, it will be no more, and this is its last issue.

The journal was set up in 1857 by a young lawyer, William Shaen, as a newspaper for solicitors, “reflecting their opinions, watching over their interests and reputation”. Subsequent editors carried the baton with the same enthusiasm. Writing in the issue celebrating the journal’s 100th birthday, the then editor Philip Asterley Jones reminded readers of its aim “to inform, to reform and to safeguard the legitimate interests of the solicitors’ profession” while maintaining “a critical and inquiring mind”.

By then, the journal had got through the First World War, during which it had continued to publish without any interruption. It would go on to survive the 1929 crash and World War II. The post-war period started brightly enough but in the latter part of the century, Solicitors Journal changed hands several times in relatively quick succession. Longmans sold it to Sweet & Maxwell in the late 1990s, who sold it to Wilmington in 2003.

The previous two decades had seen unprecedented changes in the profession. The corporate boom of the 1980s saw the emergence of large corporate firms breaking away from the pack. Being a solicitor and running a law firm started to mean something different from what the previous generations had known. Lawyers became more specialised. The internet was changing the way people looked at the world, accessed news, and consumed services. Then came the 2007 crisis.

Like most print magazines, we suffered from these changes to the media environment and from more demanding market conditions. Online, however, our story was a lot more positive. Twitter is perhaps not an infallible measure of digital success but it must be a good indicator of your brand’s online credibility. After entering the Twittersphere in 2011, we had 11,500 followers two years later. That number grew steadily and it had nearly doubled to 22,800 by October last year. This week, that number stood at 25,800.

I left Solicitors Journal in 2013 and felt privileged to have been invited back last year. There was a talented team in place and a different energy that helped convince me to return. We were going to achieve great things together. To a large extent we did, continuing, in the spirit of the founders, to report on legal practice developments and standing up for solicitors against a government intent on further liberalising legal services and on reducing access to justice. We’ve kept our critical mind, welcoming, for instance, an increased focus on public interest but warning over the danger of confusing it with mercantile consumer interest, and supporting the advent of technology while disagreeing with the temptation to reduce legal advice to a mechanical process.

The legal news sector may be more crowded today than in 1857 but the profession is still growing and changing, and I still believe there is room for a title like Solicitors Journal, providing not so much instant news and quick-fire reporting (worthwhile as this may otherwise be) but stories based on insight and shared experiences – especially for firms outside the City. It may not look like what Solicitors Journal looks like, but I’m convinced there is still a need for this kind of content and in different formats. I am sorry we won’t be delivering it.

All of us at Solicitors Journal received hugely touching messages of support in response to the announcement of our closure. Publishing a weekly magazine is an all-consuming, relentless affair; for a small team like us, it was part of our lives. These messages mean a lot. We wouldn’t have got there without the commitment of readers, authors, advertisers, and other legal minds who engaged with us over the years, so thank you to all.

Archives of the journal will remain available from the Law Society library, the British Library, and the repository libraries, but for now, from all of us at Solicitors Journal, it is goodbye, and good luck.

Jean-Yves Gilg, editor-in-chief

jean-yves.gilg@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | jeanyvesgilg

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