Law firm beats ancient rivals to ‘oldest in the world’ crown

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By Katie King on

445 years not out


A Kent law firm is to be crowned the world’s oldest by the Guinness World Records.

Thomson Snell & Passmore — a mixed-practice based in Dartford and Tunbridge Wells — was founded in the middle of the Elizabethan period in 1570 in a building that, Legal Cheek imagines, looks something like the one our art desk has Photoshopped above.

That actually makes the firm younger than Pickering Kenyon, a London firm established in 1561 which featured in the 1991 Guinness Book of Records. But, as followers of the niche City law scene will of course know, Pickering Kenyon was gobbled up by Royds in 1995 — so it’s out of the running because the Guinness crown goes to the “oldest firm in the world still in operation“.

Law in England was rather different back in the 16th century. Then the country was still operating under a two-tier felony/misdemeanour system of criminality, and separate courts could hear cases in law and cases in equity.

Thomson Snell & Passmore — which did not acquire its current name until 1968 — is no stranger to the record books. Before he died in 1954, Frederick Alfred Snell, ancestor of the firm’s founder, held the accolade of oldest practising solicitor in England, at the ripe old age of 96.

At a staggering 445 years old, the firm’s history towers over the likes of Baker & McKenzie and Hogan Lovells, that were founded in the pre-World War II 20th century. Older — but not as old as Thomson Snell & Passmore — firms include Slaughter and May and Norton Rose Fulbright, that were founded in the 1800s, and the likes of Freshfields that came into being in the 1700s.

But does a firm’s age really matter?

Not surprisingly, Thomson Snell & Passmore seem to think so. The firm’s website boasts about its “exceptional lineage”, stating:

There is a clear line of development — of partners passing on the traditions, the culture and the expertise — from one generation to another since the late 16th century.

Meanwhile, speaking to Kent Online this morning, Simon Slater, the firm’s current chief executive, has suggested that the firm’s longevity makes it especially reliable, commenting:

[The Guinness World Records’] recognition underpins our promise to our clients that we will always be here to provide legal support.