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A gentle smile creeps across Lord Mishcon’s 85-year-old face when the word retirement is mentioned. He may not walk as fast as he used to, but his mind is as sharp as ever and he still loves his work. Calling it a day just isn’t an issue. Mishcon de Reya’s founder spends mornings at his firm and afternoons at the House of Lords. It will take more than old age to dim his commitment to the law and the Labour Party. The son of a Russian-born rabbi, he traces his determination to succeed back to his father. “I never wanted to be a rabbi, but I admired my father’s sermons and his sense of purpose. He wasn’t afraid of speaking his mind.” When he left school, Victor Mishcon had his mind set on becoming a barrister, but found the 1930s Bar was a preserve of the wealthy. “We weren’t a very poor family, but my father died when I was 19 and he was only 55. “In those days if you were a young barrister, you had to have rich parents who could support you for five years before you could earn enough money to live on.” As a solicitor, Mishcon could earn a steady income. In 1937, at the age of 21, he founded Victor Mishcon & Co and set up shop above Barclays Bank in Brixton. “I don’t know if it was daunting for me being a solicitor that young, but it was certainly daunting for the public. “I never hesitated to take on cases and soon become well- known in my part of town. They called me the Attorney General of South London.” Mishcon was called up for military service during the war but did not see action. When it was over, he began to expand the firm, opening an office in Holborn and closing the Brixton branch a year later. In 1988, the firm merged with Bartletts de Reya. It now has 31 partners, and its high media profile helps it punch above its weight. But Mishcon admits he misses the old days. “Back then the firm was like being a family, but it’s impossible to stand still. We’ve grown so fast because we’ve been fortunate enough to be instructed by high-profile clients in high-profile cases.” His first famous client was Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in the U.K. Mishcon acted in Ellis’ divorce but recommended that a criminal specialist act in her criminal trial. She later phoned him from Holloway prison, asking for help with drafting her will. “She had a real code of honor and faced death with a great deal of courage. She said: ‘I have taken a life and ought to lose mine.’ “It took a lot of effort to persuade her to make a reprieve application, and even when I saw her in the condemned cell she was charming, a perfect hostess.” More recently, Princess Diana turned to Mishcon for advice on her divorce from Prince Charles. While Mishcon is reluctant to discuss the divorce in detail, he is full of praise for the princess. “She was so refreshing, both in her appearance and in her views. She was an amazing woman, an asset to the Royal Family, who would have made a wonderful Queen.” When asked if Diana was a friend as well as a client, Mishcon points to a picture of her behind his desk. She has signed it: “Dear Victor, with much love, Diana.” Mishcon used his friendship with the late King Hussein of Jordan and former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, to help broker the 1992 peace treaty between their countries. “I would describe myself as a secret intermediary. I would often travel over the border between Israel and Jordan, and both men called me Mr. Ambassador.” STAR OF JORDAN King Hussein even held a dinner party at his palace to honor Mishcon’s 80th birthday and awarded him the star of Jordan (First Class). Mishcon’s own political career began when he joined the Labour Party at age 17. “I had relatives in South Wales, and staying with them, I would visit mining villages. If that didn’t leave you with a left-wing attitude, I don’t know what would.” In 1945, Labour asked him to stand for election in the Lambeth Borough Council election. This was Tory territory, and the Liberals were traditionally the main opposition. Says Mishcon, “I didn’t think I had a chance and I stood on the basis that I wouldn’t be elected.” The Labour Party enjoyed a landslide in the general election, and Mishcon says this helped him win Lambeth. He worked in local government with a passion and commitment rarely seen today. “If you’re in Parliament, you legislate for other people to carry out social work. In local government you actually do the work. That’s why I enjoyed it.” He is proud of being involved in a Labour Party that brought about far-reaching social change, such as extending the reach of free secondary school education. “They were exciting times. Our motto was ‘Let’s face the future,’ and that’s what we did.” Mishcon became the youngest chairman of the London County Council in 1954, but is reluctant to talk about his individual achievements there. He says, “We operated well as a team. We were true administrators with a strict code of political behavior and not a hint of scandal.” He does not think modern local government conforms to the same high standards. “Governments have weakened the strength of local authorities to the extent that they no longer attract the best people. Local government needs more power and more independence.” Not that this stopped Mishcon making an impact on national politics. He was made a life peer in 1978 and became Labour’s home affairs spokesman five years later. The job he relished most was being shadow Lord Chancellor between 1990 and 1992. This gave him the chance to debate law reform issues such as legal aid and divorce. It is the quality of debate in the House of Lords that makes Mishcon an advocate of retaining the upper house. “I think the public benefits from the intelligent discussions we have. We can deal with bills in greater detail and we have access to more expert opinion.” Mishcon still sits in the Lords but has scaled back his legal work. “I am a consultant to the firm. I give general advice to my established clients.” In the few hours when Mishcon is not working, he enjoys classical music and the theater. These personal interests have also fused with Mishcon’s dedication to his country and community. He has been on the boards of the London Orchestra, Royal National Theatre and South Bank Theatre. However, Mishcon always makes time to be with his three children, two stepchildren, nine grandchildren and three step-grandchildren. He says, “I live in London and I’m lucky to be able to see them regularly. My family is very important to me.” In a life full of political triumphs and legal victories, it is not Mishcon’s commitment to his work or his strength of mind that stands out — it is his modesty. “I’ve had a wonderful life, I’ve been lucky. I’d put my success more down to luck than talent. And no, I’m not ready to stop yet. I hope I never will be.”

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