After studying at the College of Law in Guildford, John completed his training as an Articled Clerk at the firm his father had founded in 1946, and was soon joined by business partner Dick Elliott.
Qualifying as a solicitor in 1969, his initial work was mainly in litigation, with some criminal cases, but over the following years, he was called upon by more and more companies to handle commercial and property issues. Soon his expertise was sought after across Hampshire, the south coast and even referred across the UK.
Having become a Partner in 1971, John with partners Clive Evans, Stephen Gold and his brother Michael Donnelly, took charge of Donnelly & Elliott the mid-1980s when his father retired, and oversaw the running of the firm through a series of challenges brought about by dramatic changes in the legal profession.
‘The cuts in Legal Aid for cases of family, criminal and dispute law greatly reduced the legal support we were able to offer people,’ says John. ‘Aside from the moral debate about access to legal advice and guidance, we had staff whose jobs were affected and a local reputation to protect, whist having to explain the new limits of what we were able to provide.’
It was John’s passion for sailing and his connections across the Solent that saw him become a recognised face in the marine sector, representing businesses in various aspects of the industry, such as boat yards, sail and mast-making, along the south coast.
‘The other big change has been regulation. Protecting law firms from criminal activity has been a very important and necessary development of the legal profession, but the introduction of highly involved anti-money laundering procedures required a huge amount of extra resource and investment that we had to accommodate without affecting client service.’
John also cites the rapid introduction and evolution of technology as one of the immense changes within the profession. ‘I remember when use of digital dictation was thought of as cutting-edge, but now there are so many tools, from client management software and remote working, to online services and digital promotion, that have all come about so quickly. It c all makes working easier, and offers opportunity to give clients a more efficient service, but comes at a price’
And John believes the immediate impact has been self-evident. ‘I think these changes have been the reason that so many firms have merged, been taken over or joined groups that enable them to share finance, support functions and logistics, and get on with practicing the law.’
‘I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the law – I wouldn’t have stayed so long had I not,’ says John with a grin. ‘I am most proud of my work overseeing takeovers and growth that have contributed to the local marine industry and, of course, providing opportunities and livelihoods for others, but after receiving congratulation from the Law Society on 50 years’ service, and celebrating my 75th birthday, now feels like the right time to step down and enjoy retirement with my family.’
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