Any lawyer writing an autobiography is faced with one overriding limitation: they cannot write anything about clients or the matters they have acted on without express consent. Inevitably, this means that many of the ‘juicier’ anecdotes remain untold.
However, Roger Lane-Smith, a founder and former senior partner of DLA Piper, finds plenty of other things to focus on. He is a lawyer of prodigious energy and significant talent. In his early years he was clearly frustrated by the relative lack of ambition of the lawyers he worked with. As a result he explored pastures new. His first international foray was, with hindsight, an ill-judged move to work in Jamaica, a pretty terrifying place in 1970.
This led to another fork in the road as Lane-Smith had to contemplate returning to England or relocating to the Cayman Islands or the US. In fact, he returned to a true country practice in Chipping Norton. This was too mundane for Roger and he soon moved on to the relative metropolis of Cheltenham. This too was a short-lived sojourn before he returned to Manchester.
There his career began to take off and he started to develop some extremely loyal clients who remained with him throughout his career. Having moved to another firm in Manchester, he was engulfed by the secondary banking crisis in 1973 which helped to cement his reputation as a formidable commercial lawyer. His client base, both at home and abroad, blossomed, but often his relationship with his partners did not.
Author: Roger Lane-Smith
Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (£16.99)
In 1977 he set up his own firm. As this grew he looked around for merger opportunities and in 1984 merged with the leading Manchester firm Alsop Stevens. This was another fork in the road that 30 years later ultimately resulted in the creation of DLA Piper.
This is a fascinating insight into a lawyer’s life in the 1970s and 1980s and of the larger-than-life characters that inhabited the business and entertainment worlds during that time, many of whom Lane-Smith acted for.
Unfortunately, we learn more about the author’s cars than we do about his family or the other creators of the DLA Piper empire. This robs us of a full understanding of the reasons for his drive, successes and occasional failures. Notwithstanding this, the autobiography is a fascinating tale of a driven individual who achieved so much in his varied and at times very difficult career.
Tony Williams is principal of Jomati Consultants LLP and former managing partner of Clifford Chance