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Celebrating 70 years of providing top-notch legal advice

03 April 2017

We are celebrating our platinum anniversary as Willans turns 70 this month.

The firm was established by Alec Willans in 1947. After wartime service in the Navy, he qualified and put up his own brass plate within a year in Clarence Street. During this era, George VI was on the throne, Clement Atlee was Prime Minister, wartime rationing was still in force and a legal secretary’s starting wage was £3/15 shillings a week with her first job of the day being to light the coal fires!

Alec Willans was seen to be taking a big risk by his peers when he moved the business to 28 Imperial Square in the early 1950s. He was warned about being ‘too far out of the centre of town’ yet took on a few keen young lawyers and began building a reputation. From one floor of a building in those early days, Willans now spans four office buildings on the square.

Alec Willans would no doubt personally have dealt with all manner of legal problems presented to him by his clients, relating to both their personal and business affairs, as well as handling matters in court for them. A day in the life of a solicitor at the firm now is very different.

With the growth of the firm, and the ever increasing complexity of the law, lawyers can no longer be the “general practitioners” of Alec Willans’ day. Specialisation has enabled us to deliver the expertise needed to look after the national property portfolios of huge organisations, assist with multi-million pound business deals and handle ground-breaking court cases for clients as diverse as a dispute over a frozen embryo to a trade mark infringement which received international media attention. However, true to our roots, we still aim to offer a complete service for clients, helping them look after all aspects of their businesses, and also being there to help them move house or deal with difficult issues such as divorce or bereavement.

From early on we have put energy and investment into attracting first-class people, lawyers with the talent to build a high calibre practice. Merging with a number of smaller firms along the way, Willans is today a mix of eight firms employing around 75 people.

Keeping pace with ever-changing needs, our highly regarded lawyers have a range of specialisms and advise national as well as local businesses, charities & not-for-profit organisations, international corporations and individuals, never losing sight of the core principles on which the firm was founded – customer service. Our ethos is to go that extra mile to help people with their legal needs in every aspect of their lives, whether it be business or personal.

Known locally for providing a top quality service, Willans is recognised as one of the few law firms in the region to earn Lexcel, the Law Society’s stamp of quality, an accolade it has held since 2008.

Around this time we started to gain national recognition after being commended in prestigious legal guides, Chambers and Legal 500. After speaking to clients, year-on-year the guides not only recommend us for our expertise in many of the areas of the law on which we advise, but also recommend a good number of our lawyers.

We are proud to have been ahead of our time in applying gender equality in our approach to recognising and promoting talent. The firm appointed its first female partner 24 years ago and has had female managing partners in post since 2006.

Something else that is very close to our heart is supporting the local community and local charities. Cheltenham is very much the firm’s home, and as a responsible and ethical business with a stake in the prosperity of the town, Willans has done much over the years to support the arts, as well as giving support to a number of county-based charities who provide invaluable assistance to those in need.

Commenting on the success of the firm and our birthday milestone in April, managing partner Bridget Redmond said:

“We’re immensely proud to be celebrating Willans’ 70th anniversary. The firm today is very much the product of the hard work, professionalism and business acumen of the many partners and staff who have been involved with the firm during its 70 years. The 1980’s in particular, was a period of great change and growth for Willans and the sound decisions made by former partners Jonathan Mills, Charles Middleton, Mark Hodgkinson and David Glass during that period helped cement the foundations of the firm we are today.

“Professionalism, quality of advice and quality of service are all very much part of the firm’s DNA. In recent years we have continued to build upon these solid foundations and since the turn of the millennium, we have been joined by lawyers who are second to none in terms of their legal knowledge, experience and their intellectual ability. During much of this latter period of growth, the firm was expertly steered by then managing partner Margaret Austen. An ex-City lawyer herself, Margaret’s determination that we should ‘punch above our weight’ in terms of the quality of advice that we’re able to deliver and the calibre of lawyers that we should aim to attract to join us, further shaped the firm and saw it become one of the most highly-rated commercial firms in the area.

“We are better equipped than ever to look after our clients, their businesses and their evolving and complex needs. We have grown to a size that has enabled us to develop real depth of expertise in specialist areas including intellectual property and renewable energy, areas of specialism that Alec Willans wouldn’t have dreamed of back in 1947! Yet we are still committed to providing great, personal service to individuals, helping them with their wills or conveyancing, just as he would have done.”

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