Alumni news

Your story is our story

2022 will be a year of great significance for Allens as we celebrate 200 years and the people and events that have made our modern firm.

While our story started with just one man, George Allen, it has become the tale of the many people who have worked tirelessly to shape a better future for our clients and our communities.

In preparation for this momentous occasion we have launched a history project to dig into our archives and discover the wonderful stories and artefacts that should not be forgotten. We will be compiling the best of these for a book to be published in 2022.

You, of course, are part of our story and we're seeking your help to rediscover significant moments and memorabilia from our past. If you have any story or memento from your time at the Allens that you would like to share, please email us at history@allens.com.au. We would love to hear from you. Stay tuned as we start to relate some of the fabulous finds we have already uncovered.

How things have changed

In 1822, when George Allen first opened the doors of his legal practice, his bare office would have been a far cry from the tech-laden buzzing workspaces we have today. In the young colony of Sydney, stationery was hard to come by and George was grateful for the limited supplies in his possession. In fact, writing implements were so scarce that the mere purchase of six black lead pencils was worthy of a mention in his diary and, when his watch was kindly repaired free of charge, he gifted the repairer one of his pencils to show his gratitude.

With only a few lawyers in town, legal books were extremely rare, and George relied on his half-brother Joseph, who lived in London, to send him copies of any new statutes. Several of these books, with publishing dates going back to 1774, can still be found in the firm's library. In February 1820, George wrote in his diary, ‘a good library would be a treasure, and such a one as could not be purchased in this Colony at any price’.

'Please respond by COB Tuesday…nine months from now'

Communicating with clients in 1822 was a tedious process. Urgent work was somewhat tempered by the fact that correspondence with clients who had returned to England could take up to nine months. Even meeting with local clients required George to saddle up one of the horses from the stables at the rear of his property and travel the dusty streets of Sydney.

As the business grew, 'engrossing clerks' were employed for their fine handwriting skills to meticulously craft beautiful legal documents. Over time, those clerks gave way to stenographers who would type endless copies of letters, starting again from scratch each time changes had to be made.

A copy of a copy of a copy

For many years, all correspondence leaving the firm was produced in triplicate: one copy for the client, one copy for the firm letter books (which contained a complete record of all correspondence from the firm), and one copy for the client folder, which was indexed and kept in the strongroom. Wetting the original page and using the heavy letter press to form an imprint on the second sheet was a difficult and messy process, sometimes referred to as 'riding the dragon', and few mourned the day that process finally came to an end. The ability to make a carbon copy as you typed a letter made life much simpler, though not nearly as easy as adding the digital 'cc' to an email.

The advent of photocopiers then introduced the ability to 'cut and paste', and that's quite literally what was done. Pieces from one document were pasted on top of sections of another before the page was photocopied to produce the final version. This was life-changing technology.

'Dear all…'

When the firm was smaller, all the partners would gather in the senior partner's office at 9am each morning to review the day's letters. It was a great way for everyone to stay connected. As the firm grew and technology improved, the morning meetings disappeared. The introduction of email was perhaps the greatest technology change to affect the office. It's hard to imagine what George Allen would think of the speed and ease with which we work today.

George Allen's copy of Blackstone's Laws of England, published 1774, Allens Library

George Allen's copies of A New Abridgement of the Law, published 1798, Allens Library