What Has Changed in Law in 140 Years: A Journey with John Barkers Solicitors

This month marks a remarkable milestone for John Barkers Solicitors as we celebrate 140 years of dedicated service and legal excellence. Since its foundation in 1884 by John Barker in Grimsby, the firm has witnessed and adapted to an extraordinary array of changes in the legal landscape. From the handwritten documents and face-to-face consultations of the 19th century to the digital innovations and remote working practices of today, John Barkers has continuously evolved to meet the needs of its clients and the demands of the times. Join us as we journey through the transformative history of law and our firm’s unwavering commitment to providing exceptional legal services for over a century

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1884 - Foundation of John Barkers Solicitors

John Barker founded the firm in 1884 in Grimsby. Legal practice in this period relied heavily on face-to-face interactions and handwritten documents, reflecting the slower pace and localised nature of legal work.

Early 20th Century - Impact of World Wars

World War I (1914-1918): The war significantly affected the legal profession, with many solicitors serving in the military. The aftermath saw changes in property laws and increased government regulations, particularly concerning war reparations and reconstruction efforts.

World War II (1939-1945): Post-WWII, the legal landscape shifted with the introduction of welfare state policies. There was a significant rise in social legislation aimed at rebuilding the country, including housing laws and social security.

Mid 20th Century - Technological Advancements

Typewriters: The introduction and widespread use of typewriters in legal offices improved efficiency and document legibility. John Barkers, like many firms, would have transitioned from handwritten documents to typed ones, significantly speeding up administrative processes.

Dictaphones: The use of dictaphones allowed solicitors to dictate letters and legal documents for later transcription, further enhancing productivity.

1970s - Women in Law

The 1970s marked a significant increase in the number of women entering the legal profession. This change brought about shifts in workplace dynamics and contributed to more diverse perspectives within the field. John Barkers saw its workforce becoming more gender-balanced during this period with female fee earning staff.

1980s - Legal Reforms and Economic Changes

Recessions: Economic downturns in the early 1980s influenced the legal profession, with an increased demand for services related to bankruptcy, insolvency, and employment law. Law firms, including John Barkers, had to adapt to the rising needs of businesses and individuals facing financial difficulties.

Law Society Formula for Exchange (1986): The Law Society introduced the formula for exchanging contracts by telephone, modernising property transactions and allowing solicitors to manage transactions more efficiently​ – before that solicitors had to meet in person to exchange papers taking maybe a few hours (if not a day if out of region) to do what now takes a few minutes.

1990s - Rise of Digital Technology

Fax Machines: Fax machines became common, enabling faster communication and document sharing. John Barkers would have incorporated fax technology to expedite legal processes.

Online Banking: The rise of online banking simplified financial transactions for law firms, facilitating quicker handling of client funds and streamlining financial operations.

2000s - Internet and E-Law

Internet: The internet revolutionised access to legal information and resources. John Barkers and other firms began using email and digital databases, which allowed for more efficient case management and client communication.

Electronic Signatures: The adoption of electronic signatures further modernised legal transactions in limited instances, making it possible to execute documents quickly and securely without the need for physical presence.

2010s - Social Mobility and Further Technological Integration

The 2010s saw increased social mobility within the legal profession, with more opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds. Technology continued to evolve with the use of sophisticated legal software and cloud-based solutions, enhancing collaboration and case management.

2020s - Current Trends and Future Outlook

Digital Transformation: The ongoing digital transformation includes the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in legal research and document analysis, providing unprecedented efficiency. The Land Registry looks to further modernise access to its services and government initiatives to help the public access the law directly increase, with increased work for lawyers in resolving issues this sometimes creates.

Remote Working: The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote working practices. John Barkers, like many firms, embraced virtual meetings and remote client consultations.

Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion: There is a continued emphasis on promoting diversity and inclusion within the legal profession, ensuring that law firms reflect the diverse society they serve.

Solicitors and the Future

There appears a desire for more balance in the industry with solicitors seeking a work life balance and limiting the impact on their mental and physical health. There has been an increase in corporately owned law firms being run more commercially in which the public can now buy shares in as well as venture capitalists purchasing legal businesses and seeking to group large groups. The expectation is that a number of law firms will over the next 30 years merge to create a handful of regional solicitors in each county.


Over the past 140 years, John Barkers Solicitors has evolved significantly, adapting to technological advancements, societal changes, and economic challenges. From the handwritten documents of the late 19th century to the digital innovations of today, the firm has maintained its commitment to excellence and client-focused service, ensuring it remains a cornerstone of the legal community in Lincolnshire.