The Law Times 1843-

The Law Times was founded in 1843, so by the time the issue we have on this site came out on 3 February 1872 it was already very well established. In fact, it still exists.

The first issue of the Law Times was dated 8 April 1843. It had clearly been well planned – there are already over three pages of adverts, and that takes time to attract and organise. In fact the “Preface” on page 3 of the first issue is very open about the business need for advertising. They don’t expect to make a profit out of advertising – they just want it, they claim, so as to provide income as “security against loss.” Whether the lack of interest in profit was entirely true is not clear to us, but certainly they are using the same kind of sensible reasons for their choices that a prudent lawyer would tell his client to use. Advertisers pay up front before the adverts appear in the journal; purchasers of a journal pay after the journal has been printed. Since it’s never certain how many issues you are going to sell, it’s obviously less of a risk to rely on income from adverts.

from “Preface,” Law Times, 8 April 1843, p. 3

Everyone who has started a journal will be sympathetic to the following outline of the risks a new journal faces, however well planned and however “established” it already is.

from “Preface,” Law Times, 8 April 1843, p. 3

“Established” means here of course that the Law Times is supported by rich and powerful men, the key lawyers in the land – the “magnificent and, perhaps, unprecedented list of subscribers.” It means that the wealthy and powerful subscribers have paid up at least six months in advance (the Preface asks its readers o subscribe for at least 6 months). At 9d a week – three shillings for four weeks – the Law Times was very expensive indeed, especially considering that papers of around the same size were already on the market for a single penny. The difference between the Law Times and the penny papers was the difference in ” profit margins:” the penny papers expected to sell by the hundreds of thousands. At that scale even a tiny profit per issue mounts up. The Law Times, by contrast, would expect to sell only a few thousand and, instead, it had to rely on a network of high-status and rich colleagues to start it up and keep buying it regularly. That meant that it had to prove its usefulness.

That is surely why the “Preface” goes out of its way to repeat how “practical” the periodical intends to be – it will not engage in speculative, academic debate but only include matters useful for practising lawyers. That basically meant reporting mainly on Common Law cases, since these (in English Law) form a precedent for cases that come after it – that is, if two identical cases were to come up twenty years apart, then the judgement of the second would largely depend on the judgement of the first (assuming nothing else had changed in the meantime). Lawyers really do need to be able to access Common Law decisions, therefore. What the Law Times promised to do was to report these in a succinct manner so as not to waste its readers’ time – it’s not just “practical” and useful, it also saves time.

It was also clearly an important selling point that the Law Times was published at its own offices in 49 Essex Street, just off the Strand in London. Its location was strategically chosen: it is very close to the four Inns of Court where barristers had their chambers. It’s also just at the corner of Essex Street with the Strand, which was then one of the major thoroughfares of London. That geographical position allowed for the easy and rapid transportation of copies across London to the stations, and, of course, vice versa for it also enabled reports to come easily and rapidly from the courts into the office.

It was a key selling point, too, that the journal was its own publisher, as that meant that it wouldn’t be beholden to anyone. Again the “Preface” is quite clear on this point, even making the point that they don’t care how important the authors of the books it plans to review are:

from “Preface,” Law Times, 8 April 1843, p. 3

The Law Times wanted to sell itself as accountable and reliable – this was a sign that it was modern, that it was Victorian and not “Regency” and belonging to “Old Corruption.” When the weekly issues came to be gathered together in a volume, it demonstrated its commitment to transparency with a list of who its reporters were:

These claims to impartiality and transparency are fundamental to what will come to be known in the twentieth century as the “public service” ideal of the professions (see King 2009, esp. para 29). Today it is hard to believe this claim when, by its own admission, the Law Times was being supported by a “magnificent and, perhaps, unprecedented list of [white, male] subscribers” and when it is patently obvious that the views of the working classes, women, BAME and other disadvantaged groups were resolutely excluded except when filtered through the voices of the “magnificent.” But the Law Times‘s readers certainly did take the claim seriously not least because the periodical was started by one of themselves, a lawyer, Edward William Cox (1809-1879).

Originally a country solicitor, Edward Cox became a barrister (“was called to the bar”) the year the journal started. An assiduous networker, he became chairman of the second court of Middlesex, and well known amongst the legal profession. Meanwhile, he was amassing a considerable fortune which he invested (profitably) in publishing. The Law Times proved very successful. Cox realised from personal experience how country lawyers were neglected by the legal press and made sure reports of country courts were included as well as London metropolitan ones. New technology was also on his side: by making use of the new railway system, he ensured that the Law Times was available all over Britain, creating a new set of readers.

The Law Times made his name and thus helped his fortune so that Cox was able to start a second legal periodical in 1846, the Country Courts Chronicle. The following decade he began to diversify into a whole suite of up-market magazines. In 1854 he bought the Field: a Gentleman’s Newspaper Devoted to Sport, the first magazine devoted to hunting and fishing; in 1862 he bought the Queen: a Lady’s Newspaper, which had been founded in 1861 by Samuel Beeton (which explains why the issue of the Law Times on this site advertises both the Queen and the Field). Cox redirected the Queen to address the wealthiest people in the UK (the “upper then thousand”), introducing Paris fashions and coverage of the Royal Court. Cox came to own other periodicals too, almost certainly the most famous of which is the Exchange and Mart which he founded in 1868 (it was originally a part of Queen and became so successful it spun off on its own).

Does this suggest the behind the Law Times there was real transparency and “the most strict impartiality”? To us, not at all; but to the Victorian white middle- and upper-class patriarch and those who supported him, it and its successors were useful. “The most strict impartiality” were words the group shared to show they belonged to the same social groups: they did not really apply to everyone.

For more on the idea of the development of the “professional” and “professional ideals” and their relation to ideas about masculinity, see Andrew King, “Army, Navy, Medicine, Law,/ Church, Nobility, Nothing at all”: Towards the Study of Gender, the Professions and the Press in the Nineteenth Century,” Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 5.2 (Summer 2009).

Some of the information here, especially that on Cox’s career in publishing, comes from the Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism, edited by Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor, London: British Library, 2009.