”THAT ADMIRABLE SOLICITOR FROM CREWKERNE”: A TRIBUTE TO MICHAEL WILLIAMSON
In June this year I published an interview with Michael Williamson as part of The (Not So) Lonely Litigators Club series. Michael was the final “founding” member of our club. At that time Michael had recently merged his practice and was undergoing palliative chemotherapy for Stage 4 cancer of the stomach. Michael died yesterday. I would like to take this opportunity to pass on the condolences of, I am sure, the whole of the legal profession to his family and point to some, but by no means all, of the contribution he made to the law.
“I’m a husband, dad, friend, boss, businessman, negotiator, mediator, problem solver, fun lover, adventurer, tea drinker, blogger – and I know some law”
THE LEGAL CHAP
I knew of Michael initially from his blog “legalchap” which always contained sensible, and often humorous, comment on matters relating to the profession. I often communicated with him via Twitter. He set up his firm Williamsons just over a decade ago and described its growth in the piece he wrote for this blog. He wrote it knowing that time was short. His main concerns appeared to be for his former employees and his clients. Firstly he described how the firm had grown.
“On 1 December 2009, when I launched as an unincorporated sole practitioner, I was the only lawyer in the firm and all I could do was litigate in one form or another. Pretty quickly though, I was being asked if I could prepare wills and handle property transactions.
I didn’t have the skills. Nor did I have the physical space then for more people but, above all, there wasn’t enough work in any of these secondary areas to fill five days a week. What I did find was a number of good lawyers who, victims of the crash in 2008, had managed to gain part-time consultancy work and were looking for more.
By and large, these were people who were able and willing to embrace the technology of remote working. The desire to develop such systems was one of the drivers to my own autonomy and we accelerated development of our network and systems to make us more attractive to good lawyers who had resource available but did not wish to travel huge distances to an office.
We came to a position where my lead property lawyer for nine years plus worked always from home on Dartmoor, I had probate lawyers working at various times from other parts of Devon and Somerset whilst my corporate team delivered excellent service from East Sussex and the Isle of Man !
A big key to success, which initially scuppered many firms that had the basic technology in place, was that from the outset we scanned every bit of paper (of any relevance) coming in and saved digital (only) copies of everything going out. The result is that all the information needed to run a file is accessible online, through secure systems.
We always aspired to be paper-free. Some while ago I surrendered to the realisation that it will never quite happen but it’s true to say that we achieved paper-lite!”
MERGING A PRACTICE DURING LOCKDOWN
In his piece on this blog Michael did not hide his medical condition and the problems it was causing.
“Williamsons’ tenth birthday celebrations were thwarted by the news early last November, following investigations, that I had Stage 4 cancer of the stomach and that surgery was not an option. Palliative chemotherapy followed and I started to prepare for closure by the end of March 2020 if no buyer could be found. Reluctantly, I started to wind down the business and made some redundancies.
I consider myself fortunate to have signed a deal at the end of February for merger with another respected local firm. Three weeks later, we were to find ourselves in lockdown.
With the restraints of distancing etc, the transfer of business has not been as smooth as it might have been and I’m still tidying up loose ends of the old business whilst continuing work on a small caseload as a consultant within the newly merged firm.
This is the rather unusual position from which I consider the questions of a Not So Lonely Litigator….”
MISSING HIS COLLEAGUES
When asked what the most difficult thing was about working remotely, Michael replied:-
“Lack of contact with my team, the camaraderie and banter.
We’ve always worked in a relatively small open plan area, though it’s right to say that tucked in ‘my corner’ I’m out of sight and largely earshot. Like any boss worth his or her salt, I can of course hear everything that everybody else is doing!
I’ve always been one for MBWA (managing by walking about) and I’m up and down from my desk throughout the day. Often it’s just to share another joke which I’ll be told is terrible but I take notice of the fact that the two lead complainants have each been telling me this for around 20 years.
When I’m not being grumpy, I’m a sociable type and I do miss being amongst friends. I’m conscious that my time is now limited and I’ve felt cheated of interaction at a point when I wanted to be making the most of life.”
There will be others much better qualified than me who will be able to describe Michael’s contribution to the profession and his local community. I knew him as an able and formidable commentator on many matters relating to the law. I am sure that others who knew him will be able to set out details of his work. I was proud when he became the final “founding member”, the world is a much poorer place without him.