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03 February 2020

Blaze damages historic headquarters of the Law Society of England and Wales

Function safely evacuated; messages of support arrive from around the world

London Fire Brigade

Messages of support are today being sent from around the world after a major fire over the weekend at the historic headquarters of the Law Society of England & Wales in the heart of London’s legal district. The fire broke out at Chancery Lane late on Saturday evening in a building immediately adjacent to the Law Society’s hall, where a function in support of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) was taking place.

Twenty-eight people were evacuated safely, with no injuries. The library and other public-facing elements of the building, which is designated to be of special interest, are believed to be intact.

However, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) said the roof and a staircase were destroyed and parts of the third and fourth floor damaged.

“Sending best wishes to our friends and colleagues at The Law Society of England and Wales as they assess the fire damage to their beautiful and historic Chancery Lane headquarters in London,” Veta Richardson, president and CEO of the ACC said in a LinkedIn post.

Guests at the JLD event, hosted by chair, Addleshaw Goddard associate Charlotte Parkinson, praised staff for managing the emergency swiftly and professionally.

Attendee Peter Wright, managing director of Sheffield-based law firm Digital Law, said an alarm was triggered shortly after the dinner.

“All of the diners and catering staff left in an orderly manner as it seemed at the time like it may be a false alarm,” he said in a LinkedIn post. “However we could smell burning at the assembly point in Carey Street and smoke became visible on Chancery Lane.”

Law Society chief executive Paul Tennant expressed his own gratitude to staff, and to the emergency services. He said: “It is too early to comment on the cause of the fire or the extent of the damage but clearly we are extremely upset that this has happened to this wonderful and historic building.”

It is understood that the offices of the Law Society Gazette were damaged by the blaze; however, sources familiar with the matter told the Global Legal Post that disaster recovery procedures were in effect, and the Gazette, which is editorially independent of the Society, would publish as normal this week.

The blaze saw 150 firefighters called to the scene, extinguishing the fire on Sunday morning and remaining on the premises during the day to assess the damage and to secure the building, which will be closed all day today (Monday). 

Assistant LFB commissioner, Dom Ellis, said in a statement: “Firefighters worked throughout the night in very challenging and arduous conditions to prevent the fire from spreading to key areas of the historic building, while also trying to prevent water damage.”

The Chancery Lane headquarters opened in 1832 after a group of prominent solicitors raised £25,000 for a building to house a law institution, which subsequently became the Law Society.

According to a Law Society guide to the building, its chosen site, near the Inns of Court, was at the time ‘a thriving mass of brothels and taverns. Here villains could escape the attention of the City militia by crossing into un-policed Temple Bar.’

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