Stalwart solicitor Peter Blackett, of BHP Law, will this year mark 50 years advising clients across the North-East and North Yorkshire.

HE may be advancing in years, but Peter Blackett’s enthusiasm and energy for his job is as youthful as ever. He is warm and quick to laugh and appropriately down to earth given his specialism in agriculture and property.

Soon to mark 50 years as a solicitor and 40 years as a public notary, in a recent couple of months he advised on five purchases to a value or £13.8m and four sales worth £7.15m.

The 72-year-old works four days a week out of BHP Law’s Darlington office, and a day in the office set up at his home in Scarborough. His wife Teresa, a former partner in BHP Law before a stroke ended her career and left her now wheelchair bound, accompanies him to work where, he says, he can keep an eye on her. Peter is renowned for always being available for clients.

He says: “I was on holiday in Jersey in the summer and was out for a walk when I got an urgent call from a client to buy a farm with a tight exchange and completion schedule. I quickly wrote everything down, got things under way and we managed to do it on time so the client was very happy. When you have the sort of relationship where people rely on you, they know they can contact you and you will respond.

“In an industry that has a reputation for dragging its feet, it’s good to be able to show that we can get things done.”

Finance, of course, is the critical factor when it comes to deals.

“Some of the clients I advise are well placed due to hard work and have land banks as security so the banks are happy. It’s much harder for clients who need to raise finance or are starting up. Banks are still very reluctant to lend at the moment and want masses of security.”

As one who started working decades before the advent of digital technology and even automation in transactions, Peter bemoans the lack of personal contact and opportunity to negotiate with their bank manager that clients once had. He wanted to be a solicitor from the age of ten and went straight into law at 17. He didn’t to go university and instead trained, and took his professional exams, on the job, qualifying in 1970. His first job was with Steavensons Plant & Park in Houndgate, Darlington. He remained with the firm as it changed over the years.

“I was the incomer to a firm of father and two sons, run by the forbidding Cyril Park. He was a pillar of the town and occupied a large room and sat behind a huge desk. It was archaic and was yet to move into the 1950s, nevermind the 1970s, but they had some very good clients like Darlington Building Society, Patons & Baldwins and Whessoe as well as many long standing trusts.

“The training in those days left a lot to be desired, you just sank or swam. In my first week, one of the partners went on holiday and I had to take his work. I’d never even been in a court before and was absolutely beside myself but I did it. I remember the opposing solicitors who were kind and helped me and those who took advantage because I was green.

“That’s stayed with me and because of that experience I’ve always tried to help young trainees.”

He considers his grounding in law, from cases of domestic violence to commercial property leases, stood him in good stead in leading a multi disciplinary practice.

Within two years at Steavensons Plant & Park, having married Teresa, Peter became an equity partner aged 24-and-a-half. He recalls buying his first farms for clients in 1974, the beginning of a long association and expertise he would build up in the agricultural sector over the next four decades. The firm merged with Burt Hart & Pratt in 1993 to become Blackett Hart & Pratt.

Peter learned quickly that selling a farm was not the same as disposing of a non-family business or as simple as offloading commercial property because of the emotional investment people have in what often has been a generations-old family home. Those selling family farms in these circumstances need hand-holding to get them through the process.

“It’s also a very difficult process for farmers who want their farming businesses to be passed down but also want to be fair to other children who are not interested in farming. Sometimes a sibling might need to buy others out, which can involve raising finance. There is a lot of family interaction on my part.

“A gentleman farmer I acted for in the early days had a lot of land and two daughters to inherit, so it was about getting the farm down to the next generation with a minimum of tax liability. The daughters were married to farmers and I went on to act for them also. I’ve just acted for the fourth generation of that family, which is an achievement of which I am very proud.”

The current raft of farm sales is due mainly to retirement, not, as might be expected, because of uncertainty around the outcome of Brexit. Neither is the unclear future putting people off from buying.

“Farmers can’t help themselves. If there is a farm coming up nearby they want to have it and they will find the money. Some people are worried, but others just want to get Brexit over with. Uncertainty stops people doing things,” says Peter. Wealthier clients, however, are still taking advantage of the tax benefits of buying forestry and country estates.

As well as sharing his expertise with those following him, he sees part of his role as nurturing young solicitors on the importance of building relationships and providing outstanding customer service, including the basics of courtesy and good manners.

He says: “We have some very long-term clients, families who have supported us over the years to whom I am immensely grateful. We have to give them particular care. As in any business, clients are difficult to obtain and easy to lose unless you look after them.

“I’m not personally interested in all the modern ways of communication, but I recognise that it’s how the young generations function. We have to be up with all that as a firm and I’m a big advocate of making sure that we adopt all modern methods that are available.

“I still enjoy working and I like being around young people. None of us knows it all. I am still learning, and I will keep on learning as long as I’m practising.”