Meet the team: Helen Willett, Head of Business and Commercial Services
Helen Willett is Head of Business and Commercial Services and a Commercial Property Partner at Coodes Solicitors. She answers some questions about her legal career and her life outside work.
What does your role involve?
As a commercial property lawyer, I focus on the property aspects of commercial deals. This includes when clients are buying or selling businesses as well as leasing pubs, restaurants, hotels, industrial units, and shops – pretty much anything that isn’t residential.
As Head of Business and Commercial Services my role is to manage, coordinate and promote all aspects of Coodes’ offering to businesses. This includes our specialist Corporate and Commercial, Commercial Property, Commercial Dispute Resolution, Intellectual Property, and Employment teams.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
It has to be the wide variety of people I come across every day, including colleagues, clients, and other professionals.
Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
I worked in the city of London for 25 years before moving to Cornwall. For the latter years I was a partner is a 150-partner international corporate practice which I loved. The birth of our identical twin girls in my late 30s, followed by breast cancer four years later, precipitated a move to Cornwall. The move was always going to happen but perhaps not until retirement.
Did you always want to be a lawyer and what inspired you to pursue a legal career in the first place?
No, I didn’t always want to be a lawyer. I did my first degree in Chemistry and Philosophy of Science. I loved science at school but when I graduated in the mid-1980s the options seemed to be limited to becoming an industrial chemist or an accountant and neither felt right for me.
In my final year at university, I was casually looking at a College of Law prospectus and noticed a section about the solicitor qualification process for non-law graduates. The rest, as they say, is history.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your legal career and what changes have you seen in the profession?
Misogyny in the city in the 80s was the biggest challenge I’ve faced. Things have improved a lot for working women since then.
In terms of change, I’ve seen increasing regulation in the legal and financial sectors. Tighter control was needed to protect all everyone, but it has meant a significant increase in admin.
What do you enjoy most about living and working in Cornwall?
I live and work in West Penwith, a relatively small community with extremes of wealth and poverty and a reputation for being artistic. Many families have lived here for generations but there are lots of incomers too. I have found people open minded and have felt very welcome both personally and professionally.
I love the outdoor life. We have a small holding with chickens, a peacock, and a small flock of rare breed sheep. I have met more new clients through shared interests outside work than via the usual business networking channels.
How has the pandemic affected your clients and how do you see it impacting them over the next few months?
Many businesses in Cornwall are associated with tourism, either directly or indirectly. The summers of 2020 and 2021 are likely to be record years because of the numbers of visitors to Cornwall, driven by the Covid-related difficulties of foreign travel. The challenge will be to maintain those high levels of visitors, as international travel becomes more viable.
What skills and character traits do you think are most important for someone doing your job?
Endless patience and a thick skin.
Tell us something about yourself that your clients may not know
I am an enthusiastic but very slow swimmer. For years I muttered about doing the Dart 10k swim, from Totnes down to Dittisham. In September 2019 I finally did it – much to my own surprise – although it took just under three hours.
What object would you not want to be without as you go about your daily work and why?
My retired greyhound. She keeps me calm in the chaos of the working day.
What’s your super power?
Unbelievable optimism (although Covid has sorely tested that).