Books of precedents have been popular since the early days of the profession. One of the first, titled A New Boke of Presidents in Maner of a Register by Phaer, appeared in 1543 and was followed by more than 25 editions in the 16th century. Phaer’s book ran to 250 to 350 pages, depending on the edition. This was followed by the Compleat Solicitor, which dealt mainly with forms of writ used in courts, and another book called the Compleat Clark, subtitled The Conveyancers Light or Exact Presidents for all Manner of Instruments and Conveyances. Until recently, a lawyer’s library consisted mainly of statutes, law reports and precedent books.

Easier access to online libraries have made these works less common now, apart from very large encyclopedias. Many firms have developed their own library of precedents and, of course, all firms have a stock of standard letters, terms and conditions, and how and where to complain about them.

When the author’s firm opened in the 1980s he had virtually no law books and relied on the Law Society’s excellent library and the generosity of other solicitors. Gradually, he bought some books of precedents at a cost which was crippling.

Author: Martin Smith

£115, Law Society Publishing

Now in its third edition and aimed at the general practitioner, Smith’s book is a considerable achievement, packing so much into just under 600 pages. The precedents are reproduced as separate files on the CD-ROM accompanying the book, enabling practitioners swiftly to adapt them to their own use.

The contents include a section of new personal injury precedents by PI lawyer Kerry Underwood. These encompass conditional fee agreements, CFA Analysis Form and CFAs for CICA and MIB claims – and much more. There are revised company and matrimonial sections to take account of widespread changes to law and practice, including a long form of prenuptial agreement.

There is also a large section on conveyancing, and on companies and partnerships, including a specimen partnership agreement.

The section on employment forms includes draft correspondence on disciplinary matters, which will be useful to firm managers. Housing and family are also covered, as are wills and probate. The family section has some very good draft correspondence and information for clients and (often unrepresented) opponents.

The strength of this text lies not only in the breadth of coverage but also in the accompanying notes and specimen correspondence. It begins with a warning not slavishly to follow forms but to check the suitability and appropriateness of each. Something our forebears would recognise.

David Pickup is a partner at Pickup and Scott Solicitors, Aylesbury