BHP Law, sponsor of the Company of the Year category at the County Durham Together Awards, is one of the region’s oldest law firms but it continues to look to the future. PETER BARRON reports…

BUILT on trust, experience, and friendship, it is an enduring partnership forged over four decades – and it’s still going strong.

Husband and wife team, John and Karen Pratt, alongside Peter Blackett, are the owners of BHP Law, having been the driving forces behind one of the North-East’s oldest and most respected legal firms.

The Northern Echo: Peter Blackett, left, with Karen and John Pratt, owners of BHP Law

And they can look back on 2023 as a year of growth for the company that provides wide-ranging legal support for businesses and individuals through offices in Darlington, Stockton, Durham, Newcastle and Tynemouth.

“We’ve certainly been together for a long time – and it’s nice to still be striving to push the business forward,” smiles Peter, who marked his 50th year as a partner with the firm in 2022.

The history of the business can be traced back to 1835 when Steavensons, Plant and Park was established in Darlington. BHP Law emerged from a number of mergers and management changes over the years, and it is looking to the future by building a sustainable five-year plan with four key goals:

  • Grow the business – BHP Law has 120 employees, serving around 5,000 active clients, and is seeking to bring in new recruits as well as grow its own talent through internal progression, and the employment of the first five apprentice lawyers in the company’s history.
  • Provide excellent client service – The emphasis on customer care is underpinned by using Trustpilot, and the rating has risen steadily in the past seven months to an “excellent” 4.7 out of 5.
  • Create a great place to work – Staff turnover has been significantly reduced, with the introduction of more flexible working, giving staff more choice in where and when they work, providing clients’ needs are at the heart of what they do.
  • Be a responsible business - BHP Law has put itself at the heart of the community with a series of initiatives, such as being the headline sponsor of the Darlington Hippodrome pantomime for the second year – oh, yes it has!
    It has also become a founder member of the Darlington Employers’ Environmental Partnership (DEEP) aimed at sharing good practice around the Net Zero challenge.

Other examples of community support include providing new strips for the Darlington RA Under-9 Tornadoes, Tynemouth Cullercoats Roma Under-12, and Billingham Wasps Under-14 football teams.

In addition, the company has fundraised for Access to Justice, and supported Women Today’s campaign to supply sanitary products to impoverished parts of the world.

“These four key goals sum up our ambitions for BHP Law as an expanding, progressive law firm that maintains traditional values in supporting clients, looking after its employees, and being embedded in the local community,” says Karen Pratt, who was admitted as a solicitor in 1986.

The company has made important strides over the past year by enhancing its range of services. For example, it recently announced the addition of a mental health team through the recruitment of specialist lawyers Jonathan Barker and Rachel Elliott.

“It’s about responding to need and, since the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a significant surge in mental health issues in the North-East. More people than ever before need legal support in this specialist area, and that’s why we are investing in the experience and expertise Jonathan and Rachel bring to the business,” says John Pratt, who has overseen the development of the business since the early 1990s.

At the start of the year, the company expanded its team dedicated to supporting the legal needs of vulnerable people by adding five new members to the Court of Protection (Health and Welfare) department. Victoria Burrows joined as Senior Associate, along with solicitor Louise Jackson, trainee solicitor Catrina Hall, paralegal Zoe Armstrong, and legal case worker Steve Allan, giving BHP Law one of the biggest Court of Protection teams in the region.

That was followed by the business almost doubling the size of its Family Law team with the recruitment of experienced specialists Alexandra Clancy and Cheryl Whyte as senior associates to further strengthen the public law children offering at the firm, along with Maariyah Zaman and Nicole Shaw as trainee solicitors.

The Northern Echo:

It means BHP Law now offers services in the following specialisms: Family and Matrimonial; Court of Protection; Mental Health; Wills, Trusts and Probate; Residential Conveyancing; Serious Injury and Medical Negligence; Personal Disputes; Employment Law; Commercial and Agricultural Property; Corporate and Commercial; Commercial litigation; and Business Disputes.

Peter Blackett also practises as a Notary Public and hopes to encourage younger lawyers to qualify and join this profession.

Meanwhile, the investment in the future goes on, with investment in systems, upskilling the next generation of lawyers, and championing alternative routes into the profession. There are currently six trainee solicitors in the business, as well as five solicitor apprentices, as well as staff undergoing training and development across all aspects of the business.

BHP Law has also launched a pilot work experience initiative after being inspired by one of its own apprentice solicitors. Ellie Phillips, 21, presented the idea after experiencing personal difficulties in gaining work experience in the legal sector. As a result, the company has now launched its own scheme for Year 12 and 13 students.

Ellie says: “I wanted to do something to help others, so I presented the idea to BHP Law, and they’ve been supportive right from the top of the business, trusting me to lead on it.”

For the long-standing owners – John, Karen and Peter – it’s about respecting the past, upholding traditions, and embracing the future, with further investment and growth planned for 2024.

It all adds up to a law firm with an impressive history, spanning 188 years, going in to build a very persuasive case for the future.

  • To find out more about the services offered by BHP Law, go to