The world was a different place when Bill Baker joined a firm called Deane and Nutt in Queanbeyan in 1971, fresh out of ANU where he had just completed his law degree.
“The business didn’t have a photocopier; there wasn’t so much as a calculator in the office. It was all manual typewriters,” he chuckles.
The rise of technology and the internet aside, a lot happened in the ensuing 50 years Bill spent at the firm where he went on to make partner.
The firm was later named Baker, Deane & Nutt (BDN).
Bill has now retired, leaving the Queanbeyan office in the “skillful hands” of experienced partners Lorraine White and Tanya Nadin and his son, Richard Baker, in the Canberra office.
Well known and respected in the Canberra and Queanbeyan region for his sensible and pragmatic legal advice, Bill has been an active and valued supporter of the ACT Law Society and the Southern Tablelands Solicitors’ Association.
In the early days, he cultivated a solid ground across all areas of law from personal injury compensation to family law, commercial, conveyancing and wills and estates.
“I was blessed to have a good master solicitor in John Nutt, who mentored me when I first arrived here. A brilliant lawyer and a fabulous person,” he says.
“I developed a breadth of knowledge I found very fulfilling.”
In the hundreds of cases he has handled over a half century, some have been quite formative. One in particular.
“Many years ago I was representing a fellow called Ziggy Pohl who was charged with murdering his wife,” he said.
“It was a committal procedure so very preliminary, but he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to jail. That conviction turned out to be wrong.”
It was a high-profile case from the start but was catapulted to notoriety when another man confessed to the murder.
“Ziggy spent 10 or 15 years in prison, and always protested his innocence,” Bill says.
“But the thing that really stuck with me was seeing him coming out of his cell shivering and shaking and blue from the cold. It was mid-winter in Queanbeyan and those cells were inhumane.
“I’m not blaming the police for what occurred; their investigation was very thorough. But as time went on and my career developed and evolved, that case stayed with me. I learned to question things more and never to take anything at first blush. I learned to look at things more carefully because I frequently found that once I’d considered things more closely, I would form a different view, which would make me better able to help.”
This is among the lessons Bill has looked to pass on in a mentoring capacity at BDN over the past several years.
“Teaching the next generation of young lawyers has been quite rewarding,” he says.
“Hopefully for them but certainly for me.”
Bill counts this among the things he will miss in retirement.
“Working in the law can involve a fair bit of pressure and high levels of stress. I’ve always had a view that if you’re not at least a little stressed or worried, you won’t do a good job – but I won’t miss the stress I can assure you,” he says.
“What I will miss is the exciting nature of our daily work.
“And I’ll miss the people. I enjoy the company of my colleagues; they are incredibly skilled and I enjoy working with them. That, combined with an excellent client base of very good people to work for, has made BDN a wonderful place to work over the decades.”
Though Bill has retired he will stay connected to the local community. He is the president of Treehouse in Queanbeyan. Over his time in the region, he has made a huge contribution to Red Cross, Legacy, ACT Muscular Dystrophy Association, Triathlon Association (local & national), Lions and many sporting groups.
His days will be full, he says.
“My wife and I live on a rural holding between Queanbeyan and Captains Flat, where we run some cattle. I’m looking forward to putting more time into that enterprise,” he says.
“I’ve enjoyed living here, and I have no wish to uproot and go elsewhere. This is a great part of the world.”