After almost 50 years working as a solicitor in his hometown of Enniskillen, Geoffrey Wilkinson has retired from his firm Cooper Wilkinson Solicitors.

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter about his career in law, Mr. Wilkinson explained that it wasn’t his original intention to become a solicitor.

“My grandfather was a solicitor in Enniskillen, my two uncles were solicitors in Enniskillen but I never really had ambitions to be a solicitor. It sort of fell into place. I went to Queen’s University to do a four year law course, not with the intention of becoming a solicitor, in fact I thought I’d try something else but that didn’t work out,” shared Mr. Wilkinson.

Before settling into his life-long career in law, Mr. Wilkinson spent six weeks working odd jobs in America during his university days.

“I went to America when I was at university, when I was 18. I went over and worked for six weeks around Connecticut and then I travelled a bit across Michigan and met people en route, stayed with them and got buses. It was unusual, I had no money. I had a return air ticket but no money,” he said, adding: “So if I didn’t get a job I was in trouble and I ended up doing strange things like working in an aluminium factory carrying girders around, building shelves in a supermarket, pulling staples out of papers that had to be shredded. In retrospect I can say I enjoyed it but at the time it wasn’t that easy but I met some lovely people and I went back the following year to see them.”

After completing his law course, Mr. Wilkinson became an apprentice to Henry Burke in 1971, a position he held for three years working at the office in East Bridge Street, Enniskillen.

“Again at that stage I didn’t necessarily anticipate that I would stay on and become a practising solicitor but at the end of three years I did and I became a partner with Henry Burke. So that was the process by which I ended up where I did, it fell into place, it wasn’t a grand plan,” he added.

After three years working as his apprentice, Mr. Wilkinson went into partnership with Mr. Burke, who retired four years later.

“I then continued the practice on my own and I remained in practice in East Bridge Street until 1991 when I merged with James Cooper,” Mr. Wilkinson explained.

When Mr. Wilkinson first became apprentice to Mr. Burke in the early 1970s he noted that the technology at that stage consisted of three manual typewriters and a telephone.

“I have seen the change in what has occurred in the technology that solicitors have in their offices over the last 30 to 40 years, it’s been quite extraordinary. We invested in a photocopier, that was a big event and I think I was one of the first solicitors in Enniskillen to get a word processor,” he noted.

Describing the word processor as “a bit like the tardis out of Doctor Who”, Mr. Wilkinson explained that the enormous, hugely expensive piece of equipment was brought into his office and it had a stand alone printer. “When you turned the printer on, the whole building almost vibrated with the noise. And I’ve still got it. I couldn’t get rid of it, it’s so big. I have it buried upstairs in my house and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it. I’m sure if I plugged it in it would still work,” he said with a smile on his face.

When asked what he liked about working in Enniskillen, Mr. Wilkinson commented: “Well I suppose I was comfortable in the sense that I’d been at school here and I had friends here so I didn’t have to go out and start looking for company and meeting people. I was able to take part in the dramatics society which I did enjoy and it was just convenient.”

He added: “When I was younger I had expectations of moving away, I think everyone does, but it just didn’t happen.”

Talking about his role as a solicitor in a country practice, Mr. Wilkinson noted that he was presented with many different problems but assisting his clients was always his priority.

“It doesn’t matter whether the problem is so serious that you feel that you can’t deal with it or whether it’s a very minor problem, your priority is to assist the client,” he said, adding: “You have to try and be sympathetic to the client. I expect my greatest achievement is just having that relationship with clients and people. You derive an awful lot of pleasure out of that. You’re perhaps not particularly aware of it at the time but getting to know people and then, over a period of time, find that they come back to you for other advice, that’s a sense of achievement.”

Sharing what he will miss most now that he is retired, Mr. Wilkinson said: “I’ll miss the contact with the staff in the office, my colleagues, the other solicitors and I’ll miss the contact with the clients.”

“I have been very fortunate because I’ve had a very happy working environment all my life and I’ve had the benefit of strong support from the other people in the office which has been a great pleasure to me,” Mr. Wilkinson added.

Now retired, Mr. Wilkinson has a few plans for how he will use the additional time he has on his hands: “I go trekking now and again and I have had the advantage of being able to go around quite a few countries, especially South America and Africa with a small group of friends, so we have another modest trek planned in January in Southern Africa and I’m looking forward to that.”

“I’m also looking forward to seeing the two of my children who live in England and my two grandsons, both in England, so the opportunity to be able to go over there more frequently than before is what’s hugely advantageous,” he concluded.