Tributes flow as solicitor Michael celebrates 50-year milestones

Joseph Bulmer

Fifty not out - and still going strong.

Solicitor Michael Cosgrave is hoping to celebrate not one, but two half-century milestones after a lifetime in the legal profession.

And the spritely, 75-year-old, music-loving grandad has no intention of closing his last file just yet.

The first anniversary fell on November 1 to mark the 50th year since he was admitted to the profession way back in 1971.

And the second will be on January 2 next year which will mark 50 years working with the same firm – Wollens.

Michael was born in Leeds but left when he was five. He was brought up and went to school in Birmingham before going to university in Manchester.

He did his articles with a firm in Prestatyn, North Wales, but down south was always where the heart laid especially for his wife, Liz.

Michael says: “The weather was the deciding factor - Liz came from London and her parents lived in Axminster. It always seemed warmer when you crossed the Avon.”

He had three job offers after articles – in High Wycombe, Guildford, and Newton Abbot. He chose Newton Abbot and his love affair with the market town and its people has continued ever since.

He has lived in the same family home in Newton since 1973. Sadly, Liz passed away in 2017.

He started with what was then Harold Michelmore in Newton Abbot on 2nd January, 1972

He was an assistant to partner Harold Plews in the property department. In those days solicitors could lend money and Mr Plews ran a private mortgage fund as well as property.

Michael said: “Then, businesses like guest houses could not get bank loans so they opted for private mortgages.”

Michael has also previously worked in the field of probate, but his current specialism is in the world of commercial property, dealing particularly with building developments and site acquisitions.

He has handled scores of deals worth millions of pounds over the years including some landmark locations – the former Corbyn Head Hotel sale to name just one.

The workplace has changed immensely over the years.

Michael says: “I can remember when we had a typing pool and word processors and then faxes.

“If the typing pool made a mistake they would start again on the documents. It was punishing. You could not cut and paste. I used to dictate as well.”

He says: “I do not do social media or websites, but I am no Luddite. Of course, we have emails, but you can sometimes cover the ground much faster with a quick chat.

"I prefer face to face. We are a service profession so serve.”

He adds: “Sometimes the clients drive you crazy. The most demanding are often the least grateful. But you can't do without them and some people are embarrassingly grateful.

“I only do my job, but you have to show compassion. You are taken on board. The personal touch is still very key. You are dealing with people all the time. You have to respond to any worry they have.”

He has also noticed how ethics and behaviours have changed.

He says: “The law has changed and so have the attitudes of society and Parliament to the law. Some of our MPs appear not to understand what the rule of law is. Parliament makes the laws. If you do respect parliament, you respect the law.”

Michael was made a partner in 1973 and is now a consultant at Wollens, where substantial growth over the last 15 years and a rebrand in 2019 have resulted in the business becoming one of the largest independent law firms in the West Country.

He is a Past President of the Devon and Exeter Law Society and of the Federation of European Bars and former Chairman of its Ethics Commission. Previously he was secretary of the National Committee of the Young Solicitors Group of the Law Society.

Leaving the dusty and old offices of Newton Abbot and heading into the ultra-modern Wollens’ South Devon HQ at the heart of a £32 million harbourside development in Torquay must have been a challenge and a bit of a wrench for Michael. Market Street had been a special place for him for decades.

He says: “I worked in Paignton for five years. I remember looking out at the telephone exchange in Dendy Road one day and thinking: 'I'm not going to spend all my days here. I need to get back to Newton Abbot’. Newton Abbot still has a lot of characters there.

“Years ago, on every market day, one senior clerk used to go to the pub to see the farmers. He came back having had a few pints – but always with notes for instructions stuck all over his body.”

He admits that at first, he wasn’t sure about the move to the new South Devon office, and its touch-screen technology and open-plan agile working.

“I was very apprehensive. It is not what I would have chosen,” said Michael. “I have had my same room in Newton Abbot since 1985.”

But the new working world hasn’t turned out to be too bad after all. In fact, he thinks it’s great!

Michael says: “The interaction between people is wonderful. The wit and repartee are very engaging.”

The job hasn’t changed. “I serve my existing clients. Nothing is different,” he says.

Chief executive Chris Hart and the rest of the Wollens staff paid tribute to Michael in a special presentation at their Torwood Street offices.

Chris also presented two surprise letters to Michael. One from Stephanie Boyce, President of The Law Society, said: "I would like to send you my warmest congratulations on marking this remarkable achievement. The role of the solicitor in society is fundamental. Being a solicitor means upholding the rule of law, being held to high ethical standards and acting with integrity whoever we are representing, from the vulnerable individual to the global giant. Bearing in mind that the fabric of society depends on solicitors creating and effectively enforcing legal rights and obligations we have an incredibly important and rewarding part to play in modern society. Many thanks for all you have done for the profession and the public."

The other from Paul Kelly, President of the Devon and Exeter Law Society, said: "You have now completed 50 years on the Roll. Your colleagues at the Devon & Somerset Law Society congratulate you on this signal achievement, and thank you for your exceptional service to the profession and to this Society."

Michael enjoys choral singing and is in charge of the choir and music at St Joseph's Church in Newton Abbot. He also has a family comprising a son and two daughters and two grandsons and a granddaughter who ‘go crazy’ at him for still working so much.

He admits: “I think I will have to cut back.”

But then, with one eye on that Wollens’ golden anniversary in just a few months’ time, he is quick to add: “I do not know when that timetable is.”