Records of William’s schooling are scarce. In the 1871 census he was a pupil at a boys’ school run by James Ward at 116 Clapham Common where,aged 13, he headed the list of pupils aged 7 – 14. After that it is assumed he was tutored at home. He never went to university, but decided to train as a solicitor spending five years as an articled clerk with the firm of Wilkinson and Drew while continuing to live at home. Legal training was expensive , with articles alone costing £80 in stamp duty.
His father, Mihill, did not retire but remained actively involved on the Stock Exchange during the 1870s where his work in the Share and Loan department meant he came in contact with all the important members of the City of London’s legal and financial circles of the day. When he died in 1880, Mihill senior left an estate worth £40000 [ a considerable sum at the time] to be divided among his children, his wife having predeceased him.
When William qualified in 1879 he went to work as an assistant solicitor with Ashworth, Morris Crisp and Company, then as now one of the leading city law firms.[It is now one of the leading multinational law firms, re-named Ashurst LLP in 2003]. Among the company’s many areas of interest were merchant banking and railways.
The Limited Liability Act of 1855 resulted in the proliferation of small companies which led to a great increase in legal work in the mid 19th century. The economy was depressed during the 1870s but after that began to grow. European countries were expanding their territories in Africa , while Canada and Australia were developing as colonies. In 1886 gold was discovered in the Transvaal. Many people emigrated to Argentina, resulting in rapid expansion of cities and railway building. During the 1880s, Ashurst Morris Crisp had become one of the leading law firms dealing with the emerging South American regions, while during this period London had become the leading financial capital of the world.
William was in his early 20s when he joined the firm and gained valuable experience, learning about all aspects of complex legal work and dealing with important clients. Morris must have had great confidence in Slaughter’s abilities as he was assigned one of the company’s most important clients, Baron Emile d’Erlanger. Erlanger and Company was active all over the world, with special interests in mining in South Africa and railways in North and South America. In his memoirs, the Baron’s son recalls Slaughter going by train to the Paris office to work for the company – on a Sunday ! It sounds very 21st century, but without Eurostar, the journey must have taken considerably longer than today.
By 1881, William was in a secure position financially. Apart from the inheritance from his father he was receiving a good income from his work at Ashurst’s.In September that year he married Ida, daughter of a surgeon with the unusual name of Loraine Weaver. Between 1882 – 7 they had four children , Mihill [b.1883], Ida [who died in infancy in 1885] Arthur [b.1886] and Olive.The family lived comfortably in Streatham, and William became a Freeman of the Clothworkers’ Company.
In 1887,with the help and encouragement of John Morris, Slaughter left Ashurst’s and set up on his own at an office in Austin Friars. He was establishing himself professionally and with his growing family he must have felt he could look forward to the future with confidence.