Our Catch Up With Keith Bagot

On the back of Keith Bagot’s recent retirement, we caught up with him to reflect on his time working in the legal industry.

Here’s how our Interview with Keith went…

Keith Bagot

Always ask yourself. What should I do next? If you don’t know, ask somebody who does.

Also, don’t give all your attention to dealing with the people who shout the loudest. The quiet client may not get heard, and what they want to say may be very important.

An example covering both is an issue with land I once handled.

A local council owned, effectively, the access to land owned by three adjoining landowners. The council wanted to improve the access to an industrial estate and for that they were prepared to work with the other landowners for the development of what became a 50 acre site.

Over about 3 years we put a case together, to obtain planning permission. It involved a public inquiry as the local residents didn’t want this land to be developed.

‘Swampy’, who famously opposed the Newbury bypass, became involved as the residents tried to show that the land was used by not only people but also all sorts of animals.

We were successful.  Our client and her neighbours obtained their planning permission, and shared a lot of money – all because she walked into our office one day and said ‘I’ve got a problem’.

That’s where the story starts, and ultimately, that’s why clients come to see us as solicitors, not because you know the answer, but because they’ve got a question or a problem they can’t solve. We might not know the immediate answer but, if I’d said to her at the start, ‘I’m too busy, I’ll see you next week’ she would have gone elsewhere.

There have been many changes through the years, but one thing that never changes is the need to make that positive first impression. We work hard as solicitors to encourage everybody to walk in, or pick up the phone. When they do so, you have to be ready to help.

That goes from the receptionist to the most senior people handling matters. No matter how brilliant a solicitor is at doing their job, they can’t demonstrate that brilliance if somebody has upset or deterred a client before they’ve even got to say what the problem is.

Whilst we can now advertise, and ask people to come to us with their issues, they’ll only return if we can show them that we can help. Solve their problem, leave a positive impression and they’ll come back when they need help in the future.

Yes, they have changed drastically. When I started, certainly when John started, cash dealing was normal, it was accepted that people would pay in cash.

Now, anti-money laundering concerns have taken that over. The Regulatory, Risk and Compliance team’s role today is vastly different, covering things that we would never have thought was wrong. The fact that someone paid in cash in 1979 was not unusual. If they’d saved up, that’s how they spent their money.

We’re never going to turn the clock back on that, and it’s clear there are very good reasons why those questions are now asked. But clients can often find it difficult to accept change or the need to explain why they have what they have, they think it’s private.

So that’s a definite area of change but ultimately our role is still to buy a house for someone, or to get the grant of probate, or whatever we’ve been asked to do.  We need to have a certain amount of legal knowledge for that, you’ve got to keep up to date with the legal changes that are made, but the purpose of the job is still to get the person moved from A to B.   Far too many solicitors try to make the job more difficult than it actually is.

I think in those days you tended to drift into things. I was the first in our family to go to university. I was fortunate to have a very good teacher at primary school who encouraged me to work hard.

I won a place at QEGS in Blackburn and took all my O levels at 17.  If school thought you were going to be capable of good grades you would be pushed to do a degree that reflected that. They suggested I apply to read Law at university and I didn’t argue.

After my degree then, it was Chester and the professional exams out of the way,  and then I got a job, as an articled clerk, in Clitheroe and carried on.

I had worked for 10 years with Houldsworths and the time came that it was right to make a change. I went to work in Preston.  I had a lot of personal contacts  and the firm in Preston was about to go through a big change.  

I setup on my own, working from home.  Martin Heyes, who I knew from university, ran the firm’s  Accrington office.  Martin and I initially helped each other and in 1994 formalised the partnership, Bagot Heyes.  I established a lot of good relationships  with clients, Estate Agents and other professionals in the Ribble Valley. Martin had the Accrington office and we helped each other by giving holiday cover and working together in the areas we didn’t do. He took over more of the criminal work, and I was happy to let him have that, although all of the best stories are the criminals.

Clitheroe was full of a lot of non-criminals. They weren’t very good at it, more local rascals than anything else.  One in particular was always in trouble, always through drink.  He came home one night, he was drunk, and had been locked out by his partner, which was a frequent occurrence. He’d taken the precaution of keeping a set of ladders down the ginnel at the side of his house.  So he put his set of ladders up to his bedroom window, but unfortunately he put them up at the next door house and ended up in bed with the neighbour, at which point she screamed blue murder and started hitting him. The noise alerted his wife next door, who came round and also started hitting him. The police arrived and he pleaded to be arrested to get out of this nightmare.

In those days we would do everything. Practice was a lot broader than it is now.  To some extent you could say you’d get given the things the person above you didn’t want to do but it was a good education in the field of life.

There are many good businesses and good people round Clitheroe and the Ribble Valley.  I am proud to be part of their story. So many. It would be unfair to pick out one or two.

Probably my most successful client is a local garden centre. Two brothers who started off around about the same time I did, 1992/93.  The first job I did for them was when they bought a milk round off their step-father and uncle.  They did the early morning milk round and then carried on with a gardening business during the day. They were working long, long hours.

Over time their gardening business became more of a landscaping business as they were doing bigger jobs.

They got the chance to take over a small business on a site just outside Clitheroe. Couple of cabins and a bit of a polytunnel. And they came to me with; How do we get this sorted? They were already thinking of the next phase of the development, wanting to expand but there was a problem as the Lease wouldn’t have allowed them to do what they had in mind.  They said, well, we’ll have to buy it then. I said the owner might not want to sell and they said ‘That’s your job!’

We successfully persuaded the landowners to sell. And you see it now . It’s gone from an area of land that was probably the size of a small office to several acres.  It’s become a destination venue. People drive from all over the place to visit.

Its good to see people who I’ve worked with over the years make a success of things.  It’s good that I have been able to help  and it’s nice too that they think reasonably highly of me. They’ve worked really hard to get where they are and have a really good team around them.

A team that I’ve seen grow over the years and a lot of the people that work for them have worked there an awful long time. Something I think you’ll recognise from Watson Ramsbottom

Suzanne and I have always been part of the community.  Many local connections intertwine, you get to know people through being a similar type of character.

I was in Round Table, which was following on from being in Rotaract. That introduced me to a lot of local people in Clitheroe as opposed to our end of the Valley, Ribchester. We still are involved with a lot of people we met in those days as we’ve always lived in the same area, so walking, spending time outdoors, knowing people, helping people.

Suzanne has a long enough list to keep me busy for the foreseeable, the list just gets longer.

We have two grandsons. We have three boys of our own and Anthony, the eldest has Oliver who is 7, and Harry who is 3 so they take up quite a bit of our time.

I want to get fitter – don’t we all – so walking and hopefully more opportunity for cycling.

We have two other sons David, who runs with Clayton Harriers but now lives in Addingham, and Michael who is away a lot as he works in the merchant navy. There is always something on with our family, I don’t think we’ll have any problem finding things to do.

Our first planned trip is to Sunderland! But that’s only because Bruce Springsteen is playing there.

We’d already booked the tickets, and if I hadn’t opted to retire we’d have been going anyway. The date coincides with our wedding anniversary. We usually have that week off each year.

This will be the 7th time I’ve seen him. Birmingham, Newcastle, 3 in Manchester, Coventry and soon Sunderland. I’d like to go see him in New York, but I don’t think that’s on the horizon.

We’re not massive travellers, we like it where we are,  We like being able to just walk from the door and go for a walk. I do wish they’d open the local pub properly though.

Human contact I think. Interactions with people, the challenges. I need to think of some things to do that just keep me busy mentally as well as physically.  

During the average day, you don’t spend all 8 hours sat there with your head down. You also spend more time than you’d dare admit, talking to somebody or running some idea past them, sharing a thought or a grumble or a query or an experience. I think we all miss that. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of really good people, people that I trust and I will miss them.

What will I miss the least. EMAILS!! A thousand emails that are totally irrelevant as someone’s put you on a list. Used properly they’re fine but there are so many irrelevant ones.

Knowing what I know now, I would have looked to get into sports journalism or sports commentary.

I can’t remember just when, but I’ve always liked quizzes and things like that, and they had a thing on tv where they were trying to pick a sports commentator. I was too young to do it, I was never going to get on to do it, but I got a better score on the quiz than John Motson so I think if I could have tried anything else it would have been that.

CARE! You’ve got to care. If you don’t care, give up and go home. I think that applies to anybody in life really.

And for young people, I think they’ve also got to now be flexible. The world is changing so fast, for right or wrong. It changes faster than you can think. And you’ve just got to be prepared to be flexible.   If you have half an hour spare any day, learn what AI is all about, because by the time we get another 3-4 years down the line, and it  might even be sooner, AI will have changed all of your lives.

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