Mansion House Banquet - Extract from the Master's Speech

By Sarah de Gay (as featured in CitySolicitor Magazine, Spring 2024 Edition)

In my speech tonight, I want to focus on a new and very special relationship I have formed in my seven months as Master of the City of London Solicitors’ Company.

To explain - I am frequently out and about in the City and invariably bump into someone I know.  Typically, the conversation goes like this.  “I’m really enjoying your posts on LinkedIn – you know, the ones of you in your cloak”.  The cloak always seems to get a mention.  Usually in straight forward and complimentary terms – as in, “it suits you, you wear it well”.  But sometimes with a nod to who’s really in charge – as in, “you suit it, it wears you well”.

The truth is that my cloak has its own personality and the two of us have a bit of an up/down, push/pull friendship.  There are things about my cloak that I definitely don’t like - it weighs me down and makes me hot.  It’s too big, too thick and too heavy.  It has been tacked up for me - and pulled together inside with ribbons and ties so that it doesn’t fall off my shoulders taking my chain and badge with it.


Does my cloak assume that all Masters must be men?  Or does it have the very best ESG credentials, making it a very modern and forward-looking garment? Far from being sexist, is it something which has been built to last and adapt, and is the ultimate in sustainable fashion? 

My feelings on this dichotomy oscillate and, as you will appreciate, are very weather-dependent.  I’m more inclined to love my cloak when it’s cold outside.  I was certainly pleased to envelop myself in it when I paraded in the Lord Mayor’s Show in November last year.   But, regardless of whether it’s sunny or cloudy, what is undeniably best about my cloak is the magical powers it seems to bestow upon its wearer.

It is the very opposite of Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility.  Everything you do when you wear the cloak gets noticed.  In this sense my cloak fits perfectly with my Master’s theme for this year– “Amplify!”  Everything one does when wearing a bright red cloak gets amplified and sometimes you don’t even have to wear the cloak to get maximum amplification; just having it in your closet is enough.

Having been seen in my cloak, I was asked by City Century to deliver a keynote address at the event for Solicitor Apprentices held at Allen & Overy LLP in September last year, and subsequently to speak to around 1,000 sixth formers at their October launch event at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with City Century, it is the ground-breaking solicitor apprenticeship initiative, which was founded by the CLLS’s unstoppable Training Committee, to identify, educate and develop talented school leavers, connecting them to over 50 City-based law firms and providing an alternative route to qualification which avoids student debt and is therefore genuinely open to all with talent. 

Of course, City Century isn’t the only brilliant idea the CLLS Training Committee has had.  Under Patrick McCann’s inspiring lead, it first came up with the Social Welfare Solicitors Qualification Fund [or “SWSQF”].  This involves City law firms joining forces to play a pivotal role in “making” more social welfare solicitors through funding their SQE preparation courses and assessment.  The contributing law firms have now donated over a £1 million to the fund, which should lead to at least 99 new social welfare solicitors qualifying. Congratulations to all involved and if any of you here tonight would like to fund the 100th new Social Welfare solicitor, please do get in touch!

Both the City Century and SWSQF initiatives remind me of why I wanted to become a solicitor in the first place and here cloaks become relevant again.  No one in my family was a lawyer, in fact no one in my family worked in an office, and I didn’t actually meet a lawyer until I had interviews for articles.  As a teenager, I loved the ITV drama series “Crown Court”, especially when the Crown Court lawyers strode into court wearing a gown presenting as a cloak – invariably securing a “not guilty” verdict and justice for the underdog.  It was their oratory coupled with their dramatic gown/cloak swirling which got me hooked and drew me into a life in the law.

Although I didn’t get to be a barrister or to represent anyone in court, a career-long interest in what it means to be a professional has kept me close to upholding the rule of law.  That’s a concept which is crucially important but increasingly under threat, and I’m proud that the City of London Solicitors’ Company plays a part in helping to promote understanding of and respect for the rule of law.  It permeates so much of what we do - working with our sibling organisation the CLLS - whether it’s through:

  • the CLLS’s brilliant technical committees responding to consultation papers on new legislation with a view to getting that legislation right, or
  • the Livery Company’s “Food for Thought” series of debates which explore what integrity involves in a very practical way, or
  • the Livery Company’s Charitable Fund financially supporting SWQSF as well as many other access to justice-related charities.

Look out for our email bulletins and social media posts and join us in the various events and initiatives we are putting on in 2024.  In addition to the serious stuff, the Livery Company caters for fellowship and we host a varied programme of lower cost and more casual events including:

  • In May, our “Lucky Girls” event for younger members.  Named after the Tik-Tok sensation, this interactive event will explore whether it’s possible for women lawyers to “manifest” a promotion. 
  • Also in May, Alderman Kawsar Zaman, the youngest Alderman in the City’s history and the first from a British Bangladeshi background will speak about what being an Alderman or Common Councillor involves, and the work of the City of London Corporation, with a view to inspiring others to stand for office.   
  • In June, our annual Master’s Lecture will be given by Professor Steven Vaughan of UCL - like all our Master’s lectures, it will be suitably challenging. 
  • Also in June, and with thanks to The King’s Foundation, we will arrange a tour of Highgrove with some exclusive added extras. Look out for a bigger “reveal” later in the year.   

In June my year as Master will sadly be over.  After all, my cloak is a serial monogamist.  Subject to formal election, the next person to wear it will be our current Senior Warden, Ed Parker, and after that, our Junior Warden, Ginny Cannon. 

Both will wear it well and form their own relationship with it and make brilliant Masters of the City of London Solicitors’ Company, continuing to move it forward to deliver the best of benefits for its members and to promote our incredible City and the solicitors who practice in it.