Whanganui's Dewhirst Law is kicking off 2018 with some exciting changes, including a new associate, an enhanced 'shopfront' and the beginning of a presence in Wellington.
Principal Michael Dewhirst has promoted lawyer Samantha Bills to the role of associate, giving her a say in the firm's decision-making. Ms Bills has been with Dewhirst Law since it was established in 2015.
"Sam will be stepping up to a key role in the firm in what looks like being a very busy year for us," Mr Dewhirst said.
"We have some staff moving into our new front of house, one going on parental leave and another working on our next phase which will be in Wellington."
Dewhirst Law operates from a building in Victoria Court but has now also established a reception and front of house office at 94 Victoria Ave.
The new office was previously the electorate office of former Whanganui MP Chester Borrows.
"We have designed and built the new office ourselves with the help of friends and contacts," Mr Dewhirst said.
"It's a new look for us, quite minimalist, and will provide a light and bright meeting space for clients. We wanted our front of house to look very professional without going overboard and I think we've managed to achieve what we were going for.
"Unfortunately we've had to paint over the Prime Minister's and other politicians signatures that were on the wall of Chester's office."
Mr Dewhirst employs three lawyers, two administrative staff and a staff member who is establishing the Wellington presence.
The firm is the sponsor of the 2018 La Fiesta programme and is offering free legal clinics every Monday afternoon during the festival which runs from February 14 to March 11.
"We really enjoy opening our doors to people who need legal advice but may not usually have the opportunity to obtain it," Mr Dewhirst said.
New associate Samantha Bills is passionate about the opportunities she has been able to build on at Dewhirst Law.
Ms Bills, who grew up in Horowhenua, moved to Whanganui four years ago after completing her Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Commerce in Dunedin. After working for another firm, she joined Dewhirst Law when it was established in 2015.
"We all started at the same time and built the firm," Ms Bills said.
"It was a great opportunity for a junior lawyer like myself to build my own practice. None of the other graduates I know have done that.
"As an associate I'll be working really closely with Michael [Dewhirst] and having input into the direction of the business. It shows that Michael really respects my opinion and takes it on board.
"It took some very hard work but by doing a lot of networking I've managed to build good relationships with people here in town and forge a practice."
Her focus is mostly on employment and rural law, plus some family law and dispute resolution.
Ms Bills has thrown herself into the community and is chairwoman of the Whanganui Young Farmers Club and a member of the Women's Network board.
"I feel like I've been here since Whanganui has started to grow. It's really changed in the last four years. When I first came here I couldn't find many young people to hang out with but now a lot more people are migrating here and staying. I noticed a high turnover when I was first here."
Ms Bills has bought a house and sees her future in Whanganui.
"I hope to grow my practice and really build my own business in Dewhirst Law. I've worked really hard to build my little client base and I want to keep that growing."