Sheffield & District Law Society: Local, focal and vocal

The local law society still has a role to play and remains essential to the life of working solicitors, says Charles Neal, president of the Sheffield & District Law Society

As I write, it is just about a month since our annual Law Society (Sheffield & District) dinner held in the splendour of the Cutlers Hall in Sheffield and billed as the Yorkshire Law Banquet and one of the premier events in the calendar in the North of England. I was particularly struck by how diverse and engaging the lawyers and their guests were. The legal scene in the Sheffield City Region is certainly very active, lively and diverse. During my year as president of the Sheffield & District Law Society, I have been constantly amazed about how much there is going on. It has been fascinating to meet and to work with so many from a number of different fields during the year.

Early on in my year as president, I was invited to represent the society at the Herbert Hughes Memorial Fund centenary dinner. Although also at the Cutlers Hall, this was a very different, more intimate dinner in one of the smaller rooms, but it made an immense impact on me. The fund was established in 1918 to “the great service” that Colonel Herbert Hughes “had rendered to the commerce and the trade of the City of Sheffield”.

Herbert Hughes was a solicitor who came to Sheffield in 1877. In time, he became acknowledged as the city’s leading commercial lawyer. He was elected lord mayor of Sheffield in 1905. He became an international authority on trade mark law. He held office as president of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and also as president of the Sheffield Law Society. Among other offices, he was vice consul for the US and for Sweden.

At the time of his death, he was treasurer of the newly established University of Sheffield. Recognising the growing importance of Spanish for commerce, he lent his support to the establishment of a chair or lectureship in Spanish at the university. He died before this idea came to fruition, but such was the esteem in which he was held that, in order to perpetuate his memory, a substantial sum of money was collected and in April 1918 the Foundation Deed of the Herbert Hughes Memorial Fund was executed at a meeting at the Cutlers Hall.

The dinner I attended was to mark the centenary of his death. The fund continues to support Hispanic studies at both Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam University. I was particularly impressed by how much this ‘mere lawyer’ had done in and for his adopted city.

I have realised throughout my year as president of the Sheffield & District Law Society that, actually, every lawyer I met was doing so much more than simply just their job. We seem to be involved in every possible area of life. We find active solicitors and other lawyers in public life, but also working on various charitable trusts, as governors, on boards of one kind or another. We are, for the most part, also involved in our own business, which itself generates life within the economy and is fundamental to so much of what goes on within the economy. Often unacknowledged and unseen, but always there.

In the Sheffield City Region, we have two very active local law societies (Sheffield and Doncaster) and together we represent thousands of solicitors across the region. We bring solicitors and other lawyers together for social, for training (CPD), for representation and for giving a voice to local solicitors’ firms in the various current national debates. Any sort of representation must always begin at a local level, otherwise it cannot really represent anything or anyone. This is one reason why I believe that the local law society still has a role to play and remains essential to the life of working solicitors. We all enjoy the social events and these themselves serve a great purpose in bringing solicitors together, sometimes providing much needed support, but also an opportunity to share views and to consider current matters in a more relaxed setting.

The president of any law society has to attend a number of events through the year similar to the one I have mentioned. These have all been enjoyable, but the work of the society that goes on in the background is just as important and I am indebted to the office staff at the Law Society Hall in Sheffield and the tireless work of the society committee members. It has been a wonderful year. Thank you.

This article originally appeared in issue 151 of Leeds & Yorkshire Lawyer