In Free Wills Month, BHP Law’s latest partner Akkelin Harris talks to PETER BARRON about her pride in leading an expert team that helps clients through the most vulnerable
time of their lives…

SINCE spending her early life on a farm in The Netherlands, Akkelin Harris has learned the importance of planning ahead and preparing for the unexpected.

“Having a farming background not only gave me a strong work ethic but an understanding that life is unpredictable – you never really know what’s round the corner,” she says.

Today, as the latest partner in BHP Law – the North-East’s oldest law firm – Akkelin heads up the wills, trusts and probate team that helps people navigate what is often the most vulnerable time of their lives.

“It’s a part of the law that I find really rewarding because there’s so much client contact and you know your advice is giving people peace of mind at a time when it matters most,” she adds.

BHP Law has roots dating back to 1835, and Akkelin has recently become the company’s 12th partner as the business continues to expand through its five-year growth plan.

And the mother-of-three is thrilled to be playing an increasingly important role in a company that attracted her because of its commitment to investing in talent.

“BHP Law’s passion for succession planning was a big draw for me because I love nurturing talent. That’s how you grow a business, by mentoring people to operate to a high standard and developing a culture around excellent client care,” she says.

Akkelin was born as the youngest of three children in The Netherlands, but moved to the UK at the age of four when her parents bought a dairy farm in West Sussex.

It was a happy but hard-working childhood, helping out in the fields and milking the herd. On top of that, she took a job in a care home when she was 13.

It was through watching television detective, Perry Mason, that she became interested in pursuing a career in law.

“It appealed as an exciting and rewarding way to make a living, being able to help people to get to the bottom of things, solve puzzles, and achieve justice,” she says.

Akkelin graduated in law from King’s College, in London, in 1994, and trained to be a solicitor at the College of Law before landing a training contract with a law firm in the capital.

After that, she spent four years working in international law for a firm in Istanbul before returning to London to have a career break while raising her children.

The family moved to Durham in 2017 because of her husband’s work, and Akkelin set about becoming fully-qualified under the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) programme, enabling her to bring an in-depth knowledge of a specialist part of the law.

While studying for that key qualification, she was also working in the North-East, and joined BHP Law as a senior associate in 2022. She succeeded Helen Biglin in heading up the wills, trusts and probate team in May last year before becoming a partner at the start of the year, based at BHP Law’s Durham office on Mandale Business Park.

Living and working in Durham is “a dream come true” because she first visited the city on a school trip when she was 13, and was impressed by what she saw.

“My enduring memory is how beautiful Durham was,” she says. “I remember the river and walking up to the cathedral and seeing its famous doorknocker.

“When the opportunity arose to live here, it was so exciting. The people here are so warm and friendly, and I’ve never regretted the move.”

Durham is one of five BHP Law offices, with others in Darlington, Stockton, Newcastle and Tynemouth, and the wills, trusts and probate service is offered across all of them.

Akkelin’s ambition is to develop and grow her team, which comprises: Helen Biglin as a partner; solicitors, Michelle Coulson and Lucy Watson; chartered legal executives Peter Leach and Laura Vipond; and apprentice solicitors, Lucy Burgess and Jack Collins.

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Lucy Watson will be starting the STEP process in the summer, and Akkelin is also mentoring solicitor apprentice, Ben Armstrong.

BHP Law has five solicitor apprentices, in partnership with Northumbria University, gaining invaluable experience across the company’s departments. Having spent time in the wills, trusts and probate team, Ben is now in court of protection.

Akkelin has also helped guide two trainee solicitors, Yasir Hussain and Rachel Pratt, who are now gaining further experience in other parts of the business.

“We have a lot of expertise in the team and, having STEP qualified solicitors in the department, means we can give clients in-depth guidance.

“It doesn’t matter how big or small an estate may be, it’s the same level of service,” says Akkelin.

“It’s one of the most important parts of the business, to be able to give the right advice, so that plans are in place for clients’ loved ones – and we’re here to help whenever we’re needed.”

  • Free Wills Month, which runs throughout March, brings together charities to offer members of the public aged 55 and over the opportunity to have their simple wills written or updated free of charge, by using solicitors in selected locations across the UK.
  • BHP Law is proud to play its part in supporting a number of charities, including St Cuthbert’s Hospice, in Durham; Cancer Research UK, Marie Curie and the Alzheimer’s Society.

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

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