Firm family traditions key to Terence Willey success

Terence Willey, founder of Terence Willey and Company, prides himself on being at the head of a family-run Island firm with family traditions.

Specialising in the probate and property field, Terence is this year celebrating the 20th anniversary of opening his own company. It has not been an easy journey, but he has defied the odds, and battled serious illness to achieve his aims.

As a 20th anniversary tribute, Island Life looks at the career of Terence, who has always been so strongly supported by his wife Alison, their three children, Paul, Mark and Lisa and his dedicated staff.

He was born in Reading in 1945, and with both parents working as senior managers in the retail trade, it was an age when you had to follow in your parents’ footsteps; university was only for the selected few.

So he went to London as a trainee retail manager, but soon realised it was not for him, and he returned to Reading where he became a trainee clerk at an established solicitors. He was soon invited to take articles to become a solicitor, but unfortunately his mentor died so it did not materialise. Instead he was asked to take over a whole department of the company under supervision, and that was where he met his future wife Alison, who worked in the same office.

Alison and Terence were married in 1971, but because of the expense of buying a house in Reading, they looked elsewhere and eventually made their way to the Island. Within a few days Terence had secured a position in the Ryde office of Walter Gray Solicitors (then Gray Merrill), specialising in conveyancing, wills and probate.

Terence’s career on the Island quickly took off and he moved to Eldridges Solicitors in Ryde, where his upward spiral continued. Another switch took him to Wilks and Co, and meanwhile Terence had been writing articles on conveyancing for various publications.

At that time the Government decided to look at introducing a ‘breakaway’ position of specialist qualified lawyers who would be known as a licensed conveyancers, with the level of examination with total parity to the Law Society finals in conveyancing. After the Act came into being in 1986 Terence saw the window of opportunity to set up his own business, so he applied for the whole examination structure, and was one of the first people in the country to get his licence to practice as a specialist property lawyer.

But initially it was tough to make headway, with all the ‘old school’ solicitors arguing he was not qualified to do certain work. But he took the brave decision to leave Wilks and set up a small practice of his own on Cross Street, supported by two part-time staff and his late father.

He soon built up a client base, before one day in 1987 he received a phone call from the Lord Chancellor’s Advisor in London inviting him to a meeting, of which the agenda was kept secret from him.

After a delay caused by adverse weather, Terence finally arrived at the meeting to be met by Dame Rachel Waterhouse, chairman of Which, who had been deligated by the Government to set up and chair the first Shadow Council for Licensed Conveyancers. He was subsequently invited to sit on the Council and served the Council for another 10 years following three successful national elections.

Despite serving on various committees within the Council, Terence still found it hard going as one of only a handful of specialist conveyancers in the country, compared with some 16,000 solicitors. So he set his stall out as a specialist qualified property and probate lawyer.

So Terence opened Terence Willey and Company, which has subsequently expanded with premises in Cross Street, Ryde, as well as Bembridge Law Practice, and bought out the company owned by long-time associate Malcolm Daniells.

He celebrated five years in his own practice with accomplished actress, the late Dame Thora Hird at Swainston Manor, and has continued to grow in stature even though there are still only around 300 specialist qualified property lawyers in the entire country. However, further law changes saw the introduction of specialist probate practitioners and specialist advocates.

That prompted Terence to take the necessary exams to further qualify, and he did so despite being diagnosed with cancer nearly five years ago. With the support of family, friends and staff he battled back, and now works alongside his solicitor son, Mark, and other qualified and talented Fee Earners in his practice. As a result of taking exams through his illness, he now has a full probate practicing certificate, dealing with Wills and Trusts also of which his company specialises in along with property.

And Terence is first to acknowledge it might not have been possible without the love and support of his wife Alison who have been together 41 years and his loyal colleagues. And at the age of 66, he insists he has no plans to fully retire – because he likes his job so much!

Terence continues to support Earl Mountbatten Hospice and Naomi House in Winchester, and has raised over £100,000 in 35 years.