8th April 2022
8th April 2022
Peter Blackett is in his 50th year as a partner with one of the region’s longest-established 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 inspired him to become a lawyer in the first place, Peter Blackett has surprised even himself to have emerged as one of his profession’s longest survivors.
This April marks the start of Peter’s 50th year as a partner with BHP Law and he is the personification of the traditional values the company stands for, with an enduring belief in the importance of personal service.
“It’s all about relationships,” he says from the boardroom of BHP Law’s offices on the outskirts of Darlington. "It's being there for your clients when they need you and earning their trust."
Peter, who has also been a public notary for more than 40 years, has a widespread reputation as a gentleman: thoughtful, softly spoken and affable. Old-fashioned, perhaps, but a man with a keen eye on the future.
At 75, he leads the commercial property and agriculture team at BHP Law as one of the longest-serving partners in any law firm in the country. And he remains passionate about not only wanting to go on representing his clients for as long as possible but building a team at BHP Law that will look after them properly when he’s no longer there.
“There are people I care for, and I want to know they will be in good hands,” he says.
Born in Guisborough, there was nothing in the family line to suggest that Peter would pursue the law. His father, John, was a metallurgist in the family business, the Blackett Hutton steel foundry. His mother, Nancy, was a nurse until she married and stayed home to look after Peter and his brother, Richard.
“When people asked me as a child what I wanted to do, I always said ‘a solicitor’ but I can’t remember where that came from, and I certainly never imagined it would last so long,” he admits. “Perhaps it was just a sense of fairness and wanting to help others, but if the family hadn’t sold the steel business, I might have ended up stoking the furnace instead!”
He began forging his law career by gaining work experience at Barugh and Wilkinson’s solicitors offices in Guisborough. Opting not to go to university, he did part one of his examinations through a correspondence course, followed by six months at Guildford Law School. After taking part two of the exams, he qualified in June 1970, and joined Steavensons Plant and Park.
They served as the town clerks of Darlington, with a strong client-base that included pillars of the local business community, Whessoe, Darlington Building Society and Patons and Baldwins.
“In those days, you were thrown in at the deep end, and I’d only been there a few weeks when one of the partners announced he was going on holiday. He had six cases going to court and I had to take them on. I’d never been to court, so it was pretty scary, but it did me good,” Peter recalls.
Not long afterwards, he was sent on a bail application for a young lad who’d stolen a theodolite from a building site, and was being held in a police cell. Despite bail being rejected, the thief turned up at Peter’s office later that afternoon.
“What are you doing here?” asked the young lawyer.
“They gave me a medical examination and I had scabies, so they let me out!” came the reply.
With his career underway, Peter became a married man in July 1971. His wife, Teresa, worked for a solicitors’ 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 recognised when he successfully argued his case to become a partner. “We became a partnership within a partnership,” he smiles.
While Peter specialised in the property side of the business, Teresa ran a new office in Newton Aycliffe. Steavensons Plant and Park went on to merge with Burt Hart and Pratt in 1993, becoming Blackett Hart and Pratt, before rebranding as BHP Law in 2008.
Asked to name a highlight of his career, Peter speaks with pride at supporting businessman Tony Cooper with the flagship West Park development on land reclaimed from the redundant site of Darchem Engineering.
“I remember standing on top of a waste-heap and Tony outlining his vision for a shopping centre, hospital and housing, and thinking how exciting it was to be part of something like that,” he recalls.
Twenty years on from that development starting, Peter’s main focus remains his work, and there are no plans to retire: “I still enjoy it and I can’t play golf, so what else would I do?” 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 Darlington offices, in Faverdale.
It was Teresa who ignited his interest in owning racehorses, first with the late Alan Swinbank, and now with Michael Dods. He currently has two horses in training, a winning five-year-old called Jomont, and an unraced two-year-old named Baroque Prince.
If Peter were a racehorse, he’d definitely be classed as a “stayer” rather than a sprinter, given his long track record. He is proud to have acted on behalf of a number of farming families for decades. In one case, his service has covered four generations of the same family, while others span three generations.
In one recent case Peter dealt with, he discovered that the firm had acted continuously for one family since they had bought their farm in 1923, so the association is coming up to a century of service.
Meanwhile, BHP is looking to expand Peter’s team, as well as other parts of the business, and he wants to play his full part in nurturing the next generation of trusted lawyers.
“Increasingly, when we recruit, we’re for looking for personable people, good communicators, who will get on 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 solicitors – Janet Ford, Rachel Alder, and Tracy Farman – to its team and the recruitment drive goes on as the business expands.
The company also fervently believes in growing its own talent and Jemma Ebdon is a prime example. Jemma joined in 2010 as Peter’s personal assistant but, with his encouragement, she joined the conveyancing team. She then committed to a five-year training programme to become a licensed conveyancer, with BHP Law funding the course. She was promoted to team leader of the 18-strong conveyancing department and became the company’s 11th partner earlier this year.
Natalie Bell, who hails from Weardale, joined Peter’s team as an associate solicitor last June, and is relishing the opportunity.
“I’m loving being part of such an established firm and having someone like Peter, with a wealth of experience, to learn from. There’s a real team spirit here which I really enjoy,” she says.
Sharon Tideswell, Peter’s personal assistant for more than five years, adds: “The business is such an integral part of Peter’s life and the relationships he’s built are often not just with one person but whole families, and that’s priceless.”
And yet, Peter remains self-effacing, insisting he’s “just a cog in the wheel” – and predicting “a very positive future” for a business that has roots dating back to the 1800s.
“I’m extremely proud that BHP Law has not only survived so long, but employs more than 100 people and is expanding both its workforce and its services. It hasn’t always been easy – not least after the global financial crash in 2008 – but we’ve come through it and we’re growing again.
“The reason we survived is because of those very strong relationships with key clients, and there is now a very good springboard for the future. My job now is to instill those traditional values into the younger people in the business, while also evolving and adapting to new ways of working.”
It’s very clear that Peter Blackett is far from ready to rest his case just yet.