Born: June 21, 1945; Died: August 10, 2014
Arthur Brian Dorman, one of the most highly regarded corporate and commercial lawyers of his generation, has died aged 69 after a short illness.
A former pupil of Hillhead High School in Glasgow, he studied law at Glasgow University, graduating in 1966, after which he became an apprentice in Messrs Wright Johnston & Mackenzie. He thereafter took up a position as Assistant at Boyds Solicitors, where he was assumed as a Partner at the remarkably young age of 27.
In 1979, along with business partners, Alastair Jeffrey, Ron Murray and Ian Cuthbertson he set up Messrs Dorman Jeffery concentrating solely on commercial and corporate work. As Mr Dorman said at the time, the profession regarded this concentration in two areas of law alone as not so much radical as heretical.
The ethos of the firm was strongly client-focussed and after a short period achieved a reputation for getting things done and quickly. It was not unusual for partners and assistants to work overnight and at weekends on major transactions, a practice that would have been regarded as unique in those early days. In order to attract and retain the best, and because he worked his employees hard, they were paid significantly more than the general market.
He introduced practices unfamiliar to the Scottish jurisdiction and to most English lawyers such as marketing, client dinners, fee and work in progress discipline, IT and adopting state-of-the-art technology in both word processing and accounting. He introduced training of all staff not just in the law but in other relevant skills and, most significantly, brought in non-lawyers as part of the senior management to provide leadership and guidance on the business of the practice. He took the view that being a solicitor did not necessarily qualify someone to manage a legal firm, as partners wished to devote the maximum amount of time in dealing with clients.
Mr Dorman appointed an effective and powerful non-lawyer as chief executive to manage the administration of the business on the basis that there was nothing worse than that a managing partner be replaced every three years to find that he no longer had a client base and had to start all over again. He was one of the first to recognise that the legal profession was a business - a view not fully understood by the profession at the time. Gradually it became recognised that, as Mr Dorman stated in an interview in the 1980s, that the words "client" and "customer" were interchangeable and that being a business did not necessarily mean that there would be any lowering of professional standards.
He was a Senior NCO of the Combined Cadet Force at school and joined the Artillery of the Territorial Army and often required to be reminded that once an executive order was issued it was not to be regarded as an opening gambit in a legal negotiation. He was Deacon of the Incorporation of Coopers in Glasgow in 1989/90, which coincided with Glasgow's year as European City of Culture, and organised a very successful, and much talked of since, dinner to celebrate that year on behalf of the Coopers.
His client list was, impressive with numerous household names including Stenhouse, Noble Grossart, John Menzies, Pict Petroleum, The Royal Bank of Scotland, Vaux Brewers and the Society of Optometrists, for whom he acted against the DHSS, which was keen to cut back on the approved scale of charges for opticians because of an over-generous earlier settlement. Dorman Jeffrey won a judicial review solution in the Scottish courts and this became the model for the English settlement as well.
One of his many skills in the practice of law was innovation. Following the publication of the Taylor Report as a result of the Hillsborough disaster, it was clear that clubs would require to redevelop their stadia into all seating and Mr Dorman initiated an innovative bond/debenture fund-raising scheme for various football and rugby clubs, commencing with Rangers and Murrayfield and thereafter rolling it out to Arsenal and West Ham. This was developed at other clubs including the Oxfordshire Golf Club north of London. This typified Mr Dorman's ability to seek out a deal and to approach problem situations with unique solutions.
He never used law as a weapon and opponents in any negotiation were struck by the open-handed nature of his negotiation technique; nothing was held back and this encouraged the "opponent" to be equally open. Where he might have had the advantage was in his encyclopaedic knowledge of the law and its proper application to the facts.
Whilst a leviathan in the legal world, he was physically comparatively small and often joked about it. One of his then trainees recalls a negotiation in which Mr Dorman was involved where a cooperative had been set up to save the then Scottish Daily News. Negotiations were proving difficult and Robert Maxwell intervened to lend his support. Mr Dorman was summoned to a meeting at Mr Maxwell's palatial mansion in Oxford and was advised he would require to dress for dinner. Mr Dorman arrived without a dinner shirt but Mr Maxwell saved his embarrassment by lending him one of his, the bottom of which had to be tucked down to his knees and, it appeared to the alarmed Mr Dorman, the open neck of which was in great danger of catching stray drops of hot soup and bits of food. Mr Maxwell later offered to sell him the shirt but Mr Dorman wisely had it laundered and returned.
Mr Dorman was a bon viveur and raconteur and the firm had accounts in all the best restaurants in Glasgow, where clients and colleagues would be detained long after the lunch "hour". This could lead to mishaps, however, as occurred on one occasion where he had been working on documentation for a corporate sale that was due to settle in Birmingham. The night before he was to travel down he took his briefcase with the necessary papers from the office to meet clients in a restaurant and discovered as he arrived at the airport the following morning that his briefcase had been left in the restaurant. His trainee rushed it to the airport, but too late to permit Mr Dorman to catch the plane. Unfazed, he hired a plane, which got him to the settlement meeting in time. Whether the cost of the plane hire was covered by the fee is not known.
Mr Dorman's stories at dinners and lunches were legendary. He had the most uncanny ability to start a story, veer off to take in some other barely relevant issue on the way and retrace his steps and carry on to take in another, turning to pick up the thread of the main story. This occasionally could be infuriating to the listener.
His funeral on August 19 at Glasgow Cathedral was attended by more than 200 and moving tributes were led by his friends, Alan Watt and Lord Smith of Kelvin.
Brian Dorman was one of life's truly memorable gentlemen. Not only in his chosen field of the law but in his steadfast loyalty to his clients and those he regarded as friends and by whom he will be remembered for his loyalty courtesy and generosity of spirit.
He is survived by his wife Rita Rusk, his children from a previous marriage, Nicola and Christopher and granddaughter Dalia.
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