On 23 February 1918, a London weekly newspaper reported: 'The arrival of M. Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk on the renewal of negotiations appears to have changed their tone.’ The paper was the Solicitors' Journal, which over successive weekly editions found space for detailed coverage of ongoing peace talks between the Bolshevik government in Russia and the German Empire.
In its glory days, the Journal, the closure of which has been announced after 160 years, covered everything from law reform in China to Admiralty Notices to Mariners - plus, of course, notable cases in the domestic courts and parliamentary debates. Its breadth of coverage was as wide as the law itself.
The first edition of the Solicitors' Journal and Reporter was dated 3 January 1857 (The Law Society's Gazette and Register wasn't to appear until November 1903). Articles covered questions of land registration, robustly attacked calls for the return of transportation just four years after its official abolition and soberly reported a court case arising from an articled clerk's discovery that his employer (his father) had failed to stamp or file his articles.
'Gentlemen who desire to be supplied with the future numbers of this paper' were asked to send a Post Office order for £2.8s (£2.40) to 13 Carey St, Lincoln's Inn, London.
Early numbers of the Journal give the lie to the idea that the bleeding-heart liberal lawyer is a modern phenomenon. Here it is on 13 May 1916, in the midst of a world war, raising concerns about the brutal aftermath of the Easter Rising. 'Thirteen executions for civil rebellion under sentences of martial law are a phenomenon long unknown to British history,' the editor growled. It also asked dangerously unfashionable questions about the quality of legal representation available to soldiers court-martialled on active service.
Closer to home, the Solicitors' Journal's archives (available in the Law Society library) carry a better account than the Gazette's of the long battle for women to be admitted to the profession. Of course the reporting was in the language of the day. On 10 January 1920, under the headline 'Ladies at the bar', the Journal noted that two Inns of Court had admitted to their ranks 'lady students'. It added: 'The proposal formerly mooted of reserving one Inn or creating a new Inn for ladies has therefore broken down; but if the number of fair and gentle aspirants to forensic glory should increase, perhaps it may be revived.'
Refreshingly, unlike the Gazette until well into the 1950s, there was a regular slot for what in legal circles passed as humour. On 4 March 1933 the Journal published what may have been the debut of the hoary anecdote of a corpulent KC who, on squeezing his bulk with great difficulty into the front row of the court, was asked by the judge: 'Do you move?'
'Not without difficulty, my Lord.'
With the end of the British Empire and the great expansion of the profession and domestic legal news, the Journal took on a more parochial feel. But in the Gazette office it remains a must-read - and woe betide any reporter scooped by it. We shall miss a rival that keeps us on our toes.
The first edition of Solicitors' Journal introduced itself with the words: 'The reality of the alleged want of a journal which shall distinctively represent the solicitors will best be proved by the success of our exertions to supply it.' Reporting the closure announcement, the journalists' trade publication Press Gazette implies the want is not so strong today. That's not a picture we recognise. Apart from our own growing readership figures and the apparent thriving of slick titles covering the City, we're seeing heightened competition from a national press beginning to take the legal sector seriously as well as a new generation of feisty, irreverent - and occasionally journalistically dodgy - legal news websites.
All this is healthy. Along with the consequence that some titles must fall. But, after decades of seismic changes to the news business, we who work in it have learned: never send to know for whom the bell tolls.