Essex: Law firm Ellisons celebrates its 250th anniversary

Robert Jones, Louise Bland, Kevin Wilsher, Guy Longhurst, Seamus Clifford and Philip Roberts, part o

Robert Jones, Louise Bland, Kevin Wilsher, Guy Longhurst, Seamus Clifford and Philip Roberts, part of the team at Ellison Solicitors in Colchester. - Credit: Archant

As Colchester-based Ellisons Solicitors celebrates its 250th anniversary, senior partner Guy Longhurst tells Sheline Clarke why being rooted in the community is so important and why he is confident for the future of the firm.

Guy Longhurst admits he feels a certain weight of pressure at being the senior partner in charge of law firm Ellisons as it reaches a remarkable milestone in its history.

The firm traces its history back to William Mason and a bundle of draft wills from its archive, the oldest dating to 1764.

Then known as Mason & Son, the firm has since been through many name changes as it evolved into the modern firm we know today. The name Ellison first appears in 1888 when Osborne James Ellison joined and it became Howard Ellison and Morten.

But if you think being 250 years old makes Ellisons old fashioned and stuffy, think again.

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This forward-thinking firm is a substantial regional player with 19 partners, 25 fee earners and more than 100 staff across four branches. It is enjoying a period of financial growth and expansion with recruitment taking place across its departments.

There are also plans to expand into Suffolk and open a small office in Ipswich.

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It welcomes young people into its fold and has clear career paths to the top for solicitors and non-solicitors alike.

“The anniversary is a proud thing for us,” said Guy. “This is a Colchester business that has evolved and survived for a considerable amount of time and to do that the firm must have done an awful lot of things well in the past and that’s our challenge for the future. As partners we take over the baton for a certain period of time and when we hand it over to the next generation, we hope it will be in a stronger position and in future they won’t look back and say ‘Guy Longhurst was the senior partner who got us to 250 years and it all went horribly wrong’,” he laughs.

“2014 is an extremely significant year for the firm and one that we will always remember,” said Guy. “The firm has gone from strength to strength in recent years, which is down to the hard working individuals and is fully equipped to anticipate and meet the ever evolving challenges of the legal world and providing our clients with the services they need.”

Guy, who took the role of senior partner two years ago, has spent his career with Ellisons ‘man and boy’ having joined after graduating from Edinburgh with a planning degree.

He decided to change direction and enter the legal world, taking an opportunity to get his articles with Ellisons, starting in 1995.

And he is not alone in choosing to spend his entire career with the firm, which is something he puts down to the friendly nature of the practice and the opportunities it offers.

“What make Ellisons unique is our people,” said Guy. “From the moment I joined I felt at ease and comfortable; it is a relaxed environment and I think that is why staff and partner retention is so high. Back then I think the legal profession was seen as stuffy and lawyers weren’t that approachable, but neither of those characteristics were displayed by the partners or staff when I joined.

“Instead there was a warm atmosphere and I had excellent training, lots of responsibility, and I think the nature of the firm when I joined was, and still is, reflected in the people we do business with, clients who have been with the firm for generations.”

Ellisons, says Guy, was at the very heart of a hard core of Colchester businesses that helped shape the town and its future.

“What the firm did then and what it still does now is to develop long term relationships so you feel you are in partnership with your clients – to help them achieve the success they are aiming for and if they go through a difficult time then you are there to support them as much as you can. You become friends; most clients are local and you build strong relationships.”

Community remains important to Ellisons which supports a variety of local charities and not-for-profits organisations and is represented on many school boards.

It also has branches across the Tendring peninsula in Clacton, Frinton and Dovercourt, opportunities that arose through mergers with smaller firms but in line with Ellisons commitment to the communities in which it operates.

Central to Ellisons future plans is its continued dedication to recruit and develop the right calibre of staff who share their values and who will take the firm into the next chapter of its illustrious history.

The firm was quick to embrace a change in the law which means that non-solicitors can aspire to become partners and now encourages all staff to achieve their potential.

“There used to be a two-tier system where the solicitors in a firm were above everyone else; it was a two-tier profession which I think is wrong because everybody should be judged on their merits and not because they went down a certain educational route.

“Ellisons took a different view of that a long time ago – before I joined – and some of the key fee earners within the firm are not solicitors and as soon as the rules changed Ellisons made two of its legal executives (Robert Jones and Lee Pearce) partners, and that is absolutely the right thing to do”

Looking forward Guy knows that attracting young talent is key and is proud of the firm’s policy of recruiting young people into roles across the business and supporting them in their development.

At the moment Ellisons has more trainee solicitors, legal executives and paralegals, many coming straight from school rather than university, than ever before and is anticipating the arrival of a new partner who will take a lead in developing the next generation of professionals at Ellisons.

“The firm will survive for many years to come because the young people coming in now are the future lifeblood and seeing their ambition and their enthusiasm is very exciting and one of the most rewarding parts of my job is to see all these happy, motivated people around the place and I know one day they will kick me out of my job and put me out to pasture,” he laughs.

“Importantly, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We have a great team of professionals and we do our job as well as we possibly can but first and foremost we are human beings and we enjoy the relationships we develop with our staff and with our clients and contacts alike.”

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