The 4th edition of Wilmot-Smith on Construction Contracts is published this week. I am one of the two general editors. This is the first of three blogs that I will be writing about my work on it.
My introduction to construction law was arriving as a 3rd 6 pupil in the room of Richard Wilmot-Smith at 22 Old Buildings. I was his first pupil. I had been a pupil at what is now 20 Essex Street and had not “made the cut” when they awarded Tenancies.
I shared a small room with the Lexis Terminal and in the adjoining room was Brian Knight QC, one of the doyens of the Construction Bar. 22 Old Buildings was something of a culture shock. I went from doing one set of papers every three days to doing three sets of papers every day.
In due course, I made my first Court appearance. Not a great success. I went along to get an Unless Order against someone for failing to answer a Scott Schedule. I returned with an Unless Order against my own clients for failing to provide Further and Better Particulars, albeit an order made very kindly by Sir William Stabb QC, the then Senior Official Referee. In due course, 22 Old Buildings made its tenancy decision and, no doubt wisely, chose Mark Raeside, as he then was, to be their new tenant.
Emboldened by my new experience of construction law, I went to 10 Essex Street, which is now Keating Chambers. I had a marvelous pupillage with Christopher Thomas QC and was in due course taken on as a tenant.
It is at this point that I was first exposed to construction law publishing. The late, great Donald Keating QC, on any basis a giant if not the giant of construction law, had written Keating on Building Contracts and was now up to the 4th Edition. This book was there to rival Hudson, the academic work prepared by Ian Duncan Wallace then at 22 Old Buildings. After the 4th Edition in 1978, Donald had struggled to find time to do a 5th Edition, even though he kept a marvellous manual card index of cases to include in due course. I volunteered to help.
The task was beyond me as well. My main role in those days was to go out to lunch with the frequently changing Publishing Director of the publishers and tell them how well we were progressing. Michael Bowsher, who was then at 10 Essex Street as well, refused to come to the third of these lunches on the basis that it was too embarrassing to hear the same explanation given to a credulous Publishing Director for the third time.
Then, however, came salvation. Anthony May QC, then destined for the High Court Bench, agreed to edit the 5th Edition. A team of six junior members did the research. That involved a manual search – there being no on-line searching facilities – of all the cases from the Law Reports index and then drafting suggestions for the Editor to incorporate in the text. As well as me, the team was Ian Pennicott, Finola O’Farrell, Nerys Jefford, Michael Bowsher and Alexander Nissen. Alexander was appointed shop steward by Anthony. I always thought that that was a misnomer. Shop Stewards are meant to represent the workers rather than the employer and it was clear that notwithstanding his kind and calm demeanour, Alexander’s job was to get the research material to Anthony in accordance with the programme, at any cost. He succeeded and in due course the 5th Edition was published. Editors changed and the team grew. Vivian Ramsey QC and Stephen Furst QC took over. I continued to contribute until the 8th Edition. No doubt, the process that I have described has developed since then. Keating goes from strength to strength.
In the meantime, Richard Wilmot-Smith QC and I landed in the same Chambers at 39 Essex Chambers, in the commercial and construction group. I was absolutely delighted when he asked me to help him with the 4th Edition of Wilmot-Smith on Construction Contracts. Time has moved on since I first offered to help Donald. Legal research particularly has moved on dramatically. That was the background as I set about the task with Richard of editing the 4th Edition, to which I will return in the second of these three blogs.