Mr Mears's attempt to become the first to retain the leadership in the second consecutive contested election ended in disappointment with 15,911 voting members backing Mr Girling while he won 14,239 votes.
The humiliation was all the greater because Mr Girling's two running mates, Phillip Sycamore and Michael Mathews, saw off candidates from the Mears slate in the battle for the vice-presidency and the deputy vice- presidency.
Mr Sycamore beat the current vice-president Robert Sayer by 16,319 votes to 14,852. Mr Mathews beat his opponent David Keating by 16,080 to 14,359.
The urbane Mr Girling, 52, is senior partner of his firm in Kent. He and his two colleagues fought the election as candidates of the Campaign for New Leadership, formed to oust the iconoclastic Mr Mears and his sympathisers.
Speaking after a bitterly fought campaign, Mr Girling said: "We must promote the great aims of client service and access to justice. These alone will earn us our reputation and our economic security. We must put behind us the intense and and sincere disagreements of recent weeks."
Mr Mears, 57, who was elected on a ticket to shake up the Chancery Lane establishment and a pledge (which was not delivered) to boost conveyancing incomes, congratulated his opponents and said: "I am pleased that the Law Society has acquired the habit of open elections and I expect to be president again in July 1997."
As a recently elected council member, last year he forced the first contested presidential election for the past 40 years. Mr Girling, as an existing holder of high office and a council member for the past 16 years, had the handicap of being the "Buggins' turn" candidate, running the risk of sterling service on a range of committees counting against him.
But even some of the doughtiest Chancery Lane critics appeared to back him simply because he was not Martin Mears. A third presidential candidate, the no-hoper Anthony Bogan, of the breakaway Solicitors' Association, polled 1,287 votes.
The rout by the mainstream candidates will bring to an end, or at least moderate, the most tumultuous period in the society's 150-year history.
Mr Mears's abrasive style, and what was widely viewed as an adverse press, including reports of remarks at a women lawyers' conference in which he attacked the "discrimination industry", led to the campaign to remove him.
Mr Girlingwill be widely viewed as a knowledgeable, experienced and able pair of hands to lead the society's 72,062 solicitors in the coming year.Reuse content