In a world where few careers, let alone jobs, are for life, Harrogate solicitor Christopher Butterworth of Raworths is celebrating an exceptional anniversary – his fiftieth year in the firm. Not only that but he is the third generation of his family to have headed the law firm which has been a part of Harrogate life for nearly 130 years.
“I felt the weight of history on my shoulders when I joined the firm, rather half-heartedly at the time, in 1966,” says Christopher. His salary was £1.10.0d per week (£1.50) when he started as an articled clerk, aged just nineteen. In those days he was expected to cover a large range of legal and non-legal roles, which in his case included, at one time or another, receptionist, handyman, working in the local magistrate’s court, being the firm’s cashier and reorganising the archiving in the basement!
“My great-grandfather had been the police inspector in the town in the 1880s so you could say that the law ran in my family! My grandfather had joined Raworths only three years after the firm was founded by Edwin Raworth, but I was never particularly interested in becoming a lawyer. However, in those days sons followed their fathers into the family business.”
Having said that Christopher had not looked forward to a long-term career in the law, he made a remarkable success of it, becoming a partner in 1972 and then Managing Partner in the 1990s. But because of his interests in science, technology and engineering he was a pioneer of the use of IT in the legal profession, even speaking at the International Word Processing Exhibition at Wembley in 1982. Indeed the Science Museum has one of the first word processors used by Raworths!
In the days before specialism within the law, Christopher’s work ranged from personal injury and family law through to criminal (including a murder), employment, commercial litigation and commercial work. He set up one of the first computerised debt collection services in the country and worked as an advocate in courts from the local magistrates’ court to the High Court. Over 20 years ago he was also a pioneer of the use of mediation in UK and built up a practice in this. His mediation work has taken him as far afield as San Francisco, where he mediated a $65million IT dispute, and one of his more complex cases involved chairing a dialogue over fishing rights between the States of Jersey and Guernsey. He is widely regarded as one of the most experienced mediators in the UK, and continues to mediate all over the UK, particularly specialising in mediating high stress inheritance, trust and rural disputes.
“The legal profession has fundamentally changed since my early years at Raworths”, says Christopher. “When I started there were only 22,000 qualified solicitors in England and Wales compared to 134,000 now; a six-fold increase! However, even then, Raworths was very forward-thinking by having a female partner, Anne Taylor, at a time when only 2% of solicitors were women – now female solicitors aged under 40 are in the majority.”
Christopher, his father and grandfather are all Past-Presidents of the Harrogate and District Law Society, in which Raworths has always played an active part; three of the last five Presidents have been Raworths lawyers. Christopher also served on a number of national and local Law Society committees.
Three years ago he handed over the reins at Raworths and the firm is now run by a Board of Management led by the highly experienced family lawyer, Zoe Robinson.
Christopher’s heart, however, is firmly in sailing and the countryside and he now spends as much time as he is can on the river, having taken up fly-fishing only a few years ago. Historic ties are as strong as ever and this enabled him to invite the BBC newsreader, Sophie Raworth, who is the great-granddaughter of Edwin Raworth, the founder of the firm, to be a keynote speaker at the launch of the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival four years ago. Christopher is a strong believer in the sponsorship of local literature and the arts, particularly through the contribution of Raworths to the ever increasing reputation of the Harrogate International Festivals, also now in their 50th year.
Zoe Robinson, managing partner at Raworths says: “Christopher’s influence on the direction the firm has taken over the years cannot be underestimated. Most recently, his navigation of the firm through the recession brought us to a stronger position now that the economy is recovering. From a personal point of view, I know that many members of staff regard Christopher as the ultimate oracle on matters as diverse as the history of the firm to how the latest IT systems work. He extends a helping hand to new starters, making them welcome whilst enabling those of us who have worked here over many years to use him as a sounding board and source of wise advice. He is held in high esteem by staff, clients and the many people with whom he has worked over 50 years in the law. We congratulate him on his extraordinary achievement. ”