Northeast law firm presents strong case for traditional values
Peter Blackett is in his 50th year as a partner at one of the region’s oldest law firms. He explains to Peter Barron why building personal trust is at the heart of BHP Law’s longevity
FOR someone who can’t remember what prompted him to become a lawyer, Peter Blackett surprised himself to be one of the longest surviving members of his profession.
This April marks the start of Peter’s 50th year as a partner at BHP Law and he is the embodiment of the firm’s traditional values, with an enduring belief in the importance of personal service.
“It’s all about relationships,” he says from the conference room at BHP Law’s offices on the outskirts of Darlington. “It’s being there for your customers when they need you and earning their trust.”
Peter, who was also a notary public for over 40 years, has a widely held reputation as a gentleman: thoughtful, gentle and affable. Old-fashioned perhaps, but a man looking to the future.
At 75, he leads BHP Law’s commercial property and agriculture team as one of the longest-serving partners of any law firm in the country. And he remains passionate not only about continuing to represent his clients for as long as possible, but about building a team at BHP Law that will look after them properly when he is gone.
“There are people I care about and I want to know that they will be in good hands,” he says.
Born in Guisborough, there was nothing in the family line to suggest Peter would pursue law. His father, John, was a steelworker in the family business, the Blackett Hutton Steel Foundry. His mother, Nancy, was a nurse until she got married and stayed home to care for Peter and his brother, Richard.
“When people asked me when I was a kid what I wanted to do, I always answered ‘a lawyer’ but I can’t remember where it came from, and I certainly never imagined it would last this long” , he admits. “Maybe it was just a sense of fairness and a desire to help others, but if the family hadn’t sold the steel business, I might have ended up stoking the kiln instead. !”
He began his legal career by gaining work experience in the law offices of Barugh and Wilkinson in Guisborough. Choosing not to go to university, he did the first part of his exams through a correspondence course, followed by six months at Guildford Law School. After sitting two of the exams he qualified in June 1970 and joined Steavensons Plant and Park.
They served as Darlington’s town clerks, with a strong following that included stalwarts of the local business community, Whessoe, Darlington Building Society and Patons and Baldwins.
“At the time, you were thrown in the deep end, and I had only been there a few weeks when one of the partners announced that he was going on vacation. He had six cases before the courts and I had to take them on. I had never been to court, so it was pretty scary, but it felt good,” Peter recalled.
Shortly after, he was sent on a bail request for a young boy who had stolen a theodolite from a construction site and was being held in a police cell. Although bail was rejected, the thief showed up at Peter’s office later that afternoon.
“What are you doing here?” asked the young lawyer.
“They gave me a medical and I had scabies, so they let me out!” came the answer.
With his career underway, Peter became a married man in July 1971. His wife, Teresa, worked for a law firm in Stockton, and the marriage coincided with Steavensons Plant and Park needing an assistant solicitor.
Teresa was given the role, and at the same time Peter’s qualities were duly recognized when he successfully pleaded his case to become a partner. “We have become a partnership within a partnership,” he smiles.
While Peter specialized in the real estate side of the business, Teresa ran a new office in Newton Aycliffe. Steavensons Plant and Park then merged with Burt Hart and Pratt in 1993, becoming Blackett Hart and Pratt, before renaming itself BHP Law in 2008.
Asked to name a career highlight, Peter speaks proudly about supporting businessman Tony Cooper with the flagship West Park development on land reclaimed from Darchem Engineering’s redundant site.
“I remember standing on top of a pile of trash and Tony describing his vision for a mall, hospital and housing, and thinking how exciting it was to be a part of something. like that,” he recalls.
Twenty years after the start of this development, Peter’s main focus remains his job, and there are no plans to retire: “I still like it and I can’t play golf, so what would- I else?” he asks.
Sadly, he is now without his beloved Teresa, who passed away last year. Even when a stroke left her confined to a wheelchair, Peter continued to bring her to work with him at BHP’s offices in Darlington, Faverdale.
It was Teresa who sparked her interest in racehorse ownership, first with the late Alan Swinbank, and now with Michael Dods. He currently has two horses in training, a five-year-old winner named Jomont and an unraced two-year-old named Baroque Prince.
If Peter was a racehorse, he would definitely be considered a stayer rather than a sprinter, given his long track record. He is proud to have acted on behalf of several farming families for decades. In one case, his service spanned four generations of one family, while others spanned three generations.
In a recent case handled by Peter, he found that the company had acted continuously for a family since they bought their farm in 1923, so that the association is approaching a century of service.
Meanwhile, BHP is looking to grow Peter’s team, as well as other parts of the business, and he wants to play his full part in building the next generation of trusted lawyers.
“More and more, when we recruit, we are looking for friendly people, good communicators, who will know how to get along with clients and give them confidence,” he says.
BHP Law, which has offices in Darlington, Durham, Stockton, Newcastle and Tynemouth, recently added three highly experienced lawyers – Janet Ford, Rachel Alder and Tracy Farman – to its team and the recruitment campaign continues as the business is growing.
The company also strongly believes in growing its own talent and Jemma Ebdon is a prime example of this. Jemma joined in 2010 as Peter’s personal assistant but, with his encouragement, she joined the transfer of ownership team. She then embarked on a five-year training program to become a licensed transfer agent, with BHP Law funding the course. She was promoted to team leader of the 18-person property transfer department and became the firm’s 11th associate earlier this year.
Natalie Bell, from Weardale, joined Peter’s team as an associate solicitor last June and is relishing the opportunity.
“I love being part of such an established company and having someone like Peter, with a wealth of experience, to learn from. There’s a real team spirit here that I really appreciate,” she says.
Sharon Tideswell, Peter’s personal assistant for over five years, adds: “Business is such an integral part of Peter’s life and the relationships he has built are often not just with one person but with entire families, and that is priceless.
And yet Peter remains self-effacing, insisting he is ‘just a cog in the wheel’ – and predicts ‘a very positive future’ for a company whose roots date back to the 1800s.
“I am extremely proud that BHP Law has not only survived this long, but is employing over 100 people and expanding both its workforce and services. It hasn’t always been easy – especially after the global financial crash of 2008 – but we got through it and are growing again.
“If we have survived, it is thanks to these very strong relationships with key customers, and there is now a very good springboard for the future. My job now is to instill these traditional values in young people in the company, while evolving and adapting to new ways of working. »
It’s very clear that Peter Blackett is far from ready to close his case just yet.