Law firm is still appealing

IPSWICH-based law firm Kerseys is 125 years old. Today JAMES MARSTON looks at how a one-man practice developed in to the highly specialised film with a local client list of thousands.

IPSWICH-based law firm Kerseys is 125 years old. Today JAMES MARSTON looks at how a one-man practice developed in to the highly specialised film with a local client list of thousands.

BACK in 1777, John Glanfield, of Hadleigh and his wife Elizabeth bought some land from Samuel and Lydia Barnard.

Kerseys strong room in the basement of its Lloyds Avenue office still has the original document recording the details of the contract. It's yellowed with age, and the faded ink makes it a little bit tricky to read but it's been preserved as a fascinating insight in to Suffolk life more than two centuries ago.

Today, 125 years after it was founded, Kerseys is a bustling high street law firm in the heart of Ipswich. There are more than 55 staff including partners, solicitors, qualified legal staff, legal executives, secretaries and support staff.

Divided into departments which include family law, private clients-formerly probate and trusts, conveyancing and commercial clients, the firm strives to ensure clients get the tailored service they require.

Partner Miranda Reckitt has been with the firm since 1969, was Ipswich's first female solicitor, and is now one of the firm's five senior partners,

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She said: “When I first came I worked on criminal cases, litigation as well as family law. I have worked for Kerseys for 37 years and young lawyers nowadays are much clearer in their mind about where they want to specialise. They have options during university and no longer have quite the broad training my generation of solicitors had.”

She has also noticed a difference in how woman are accepted into the profession. She said: “When I started out I was the only one, but now the majority of youngsters coming through are women.”

Criminal cases are no longer taken by the firm.

Miss Reckitt said: “We stopped doing criminal cases about three years ago. I'm afraid it was no longer economical.”

With more than 7,000 “active matters” - work underway on behalf of clients - Kerseys is a busy office with the usual telephone calls, meetings and bustle of the modern working environment. In the boardroom, with law reports dating back to the early 1900s lining the walls and portraits of the firm's founders over the fireplace, harks back to a more traditional age.

At 23, marketing manager Shane Seal is one of the firm's youngest employees. His role has been created in response to commercial demands.

Mr Seal said: “Kerseys is based on those traditional values that clients look for in a firm of solicitors. I think we are professional but approachable.”

High street solicitors have had to respond not only to changing society, but also to the fast paced changes in legislation.

Miss Reckitt said: “I've done three divorces for one client, and several who have been divorced twice. There are still people that want the personal contact. Not everything is sacrificed in the name of efficiency and in some ways we remain very traditional in that way.

“So many things are changing in society and in law and so much is being swept away. Britain has gone through tremendous change in the last ten years and I think people look for history and continuity.”

Senior partner Anthony Wooding has worked for the firm for 15 years. He remembers some of the more high profile cases the firm has been involved with.

He said: “Several years ago we had “child B” among our clients. The story hit the headlines as the courts were asked to decide whether the NHS should be allowed to withdraw medical treatment. It was the first serious attempt to challenge the NHS in this way.”

Mr Wooding, who has also worked on cases involving child abuse and trespass, said the work of the solicitors is not just limited to the stereotypes of wills and company law.

He said: “I was attracted to Kerseys because of the work that it undertakes for the people of Ipswich. We are not just interested in the bigger clients and I enjoy the freedom we are given to pursue cases that are important to us, like dealing with homeless appeals against repossessions.”

Working closely with the Evening Star on occasion (which has also been in Ipswich for 125 years), and other town institutions like the East of England Cooperative Society, Kerseys is part of the fabric of the town.

Miss Reckitt said: “There are challenges ahead, but we have built up a very good client base and we are taking on new people every year so there is every reason to be optimistic about the future.”

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What do you think of the changes society has seen in the last 125 years? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Born: At White Hall, Waldringfield, in 1860 and was the only son of William and Mary Ann Kersey.

His father was obviously a man of substance. In his will, made in March 1887, he describes himself as "a Gentleman"; on his death, some six months later, he left a net estate of £20,500.

Education: William E Kersey, aged 11, is shown as a boarder at the Grammar School, Woodbridge.

Career: In the 1881 Census Mr Kersey is lodging at Spondon Villas, in Camberwell, South London, and is described as "a Student at Law".

1881: William Kersey was admitted a solicitor of the Supreme Court at the age of 21.

1881: He practised alone at 15 Tower Street.

1884: He went back to London, where he had been articled, and became a partner there.

1888: The firm of Jackaman, Sons & Kersey is recorded in an office in Silent Street, Ipswich.

1889-1924: Law Society records reveal that Mr Kersey was again in sole practice at 15 Tower Street.

1901: The Census for 1901 shows Mr Kersey is living in Constitution Hill with his wife, Ada, son William aged eight and daughter Marian aged three. Four servants are also listed, being a nurse, cook, parlour maid and housemaid.

1910: It is unclear when the firm's long association with the Ipswich Industrial Co-operative Society began but in 1910-11 Mr Kersey acted for the Society on its purchase of Falstaff Manor, Bentley.

1924: Francis Lewis Tempest joined the firm. He was a former pupil of Ipswich School and a graduate of Selwyn College, Cambridge. He was admitted as a solicitor in 1924 and immediately joined Mr Kersey in partnership.

1939: By the time of the outbreak of the Second World War the firm of Kersey & Tempest was well established and prosperous with one of the largest conveyancing practices in East Anglia.

1951: On January 23, Colonel Tempest died in London aged 57, four days after an operation for removal of a brain tumour. Only three days later, on January 26, Mr Kersey died at the age of 92.

1960s and 1970s: When branch offices were the fashion, Kerseys had offices in Felixstowe, Southwold, Lowestoft, Norwich, Hadleigh and Chancery Lane, London.

1976: The firm acquired the long-established practice and premises of Cobbold, Armitage & Nixon

1985: The firm moved from Tower Street to its present offices at Lloyds Avenue, and also changed its name from Kersey, Tempest & Latter to Kerseys.

Today: The firm is led by managing partner Graham Nunn and senior partner James Hayward.

Probate clerk Raymond Sheppard who retired from the firm in 1986, had notched up 70 years of service.

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