Andy Newman meets David Lodder, a lawyer who believes in getting his hands dirty - in all senses of the word.
When you meet David Lodder on his farm it’s clear he’s a man who deserves his reputation for talking the talk and walking the walk.
Warwickshire’s top agricultural lawyer is dressed on this cold and wet Saturday morning in jeans, green wellington boots, a Scottish wool jumper and a sleeveless waterproof jacket.
What’s more his hands are dirty because he’s been doing manual work on the 120 acre farm near Henley-in-Arden, which has been owned by the Lodder family for three generations.
He ushers me into the kitchen. It is a real family farmhouse kitchen with a long table and pews.
"It hasn’t changed much since my grandfather bought the farm in 1920," he chuckles.
The oak-beamed kitchen is kept warm by an Aga cooker, has the customary stone floor, and, of course, two dogs - Fly, a springer, who greets me affectionately, and Storm, a labrador, who has a puppy hiding somewhere.
The table is strewn with toys. David and Kirstie Lodder have always put their family first.
He was the only boy of six children, and the couple have added five children and seven grandchildren to the Lodder tribe.
David Lodder is known in his various capacities - senior partner of Lodders, under sheriff of Warwickshire, steward of the manor of Henley, and a national figure in the Country Land and Business Association - as an outgoing man with an informal approach to life.
It is perhaps no surprise that the Warwickshire law firm which bears his name has a reputation for placing emphasis on a friendly approach to clients.
"I have always enjoyed working in the law and there is no paradox in taking your work seriously but also having fun doing it.
"I think that ethos has rubbed off on others at the firm and that’s the way we do business at Lodders."
In November 2007 David Lodder was assessed for the second year running by Chamber and Partners, the bible of the legal profession, to be "a superstar" in agricultural and rural affairs.
The firm, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, is one of the fastest growing practices in the West Midlands with a substantial private client base and a commercial property department that is forging a national reputation.
Lodders’ probate, wills and tax practice is noted as a "significantly strong practice based on the calibre of its individuals".
The ancestors would certainly approve. The firm has been part of the professional landscape in south Warwickshire for more than 100 years.
George Frederick Lodder, David’s grandfather, moved to Henley at the turn of the century and joined a local firm which eventually became G F Lodder and Sons.
There were not many lawyers about in rural areas in those days and they were highly respected within the community.
George Lodder worked with a wealthy Henley-in-Arden benefactor W J Fieldhouse to reconstitute the Court Leet and the latter financed the updating of its historic archives.
Fieldhouse also used his extensive fortune to modernise the Guildhall in 1914 from which the Court Leet has since operated.
Bill Lodder succeeded George as steward of the manor in the 1940s and David became the third generation to undertake the post in the 1980s on the death of his father.
The steward is the legal representative of the Lord of the Manor and so it is a post customarily undertaken by a lawyer.
Bill Lodder joined his father in G F Lodder and Sons during the inter-war years and when he returned from the war - his father having died in 1945 - he took over the mantle of reinvigorating the firm after five war years.
In the 1950s and 1960s the firm had offices in Henley, Stratford and Birmingham and David’s father Bill was not only a well respected Warwickshire solicitor but also coroner for south Warwickshire.
Bill’s wife Molly - now 88 years of age - is currently a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire and was chairman of the magistrates’ bench at Stratford for many years.
After going to Uppingham School, David went to Sheffield University where he obtained his law degree, and finished his education at law school in Guildford.
He had always wanted to be a farmer, but as he was the only son among five sisters he knew he would be expected to go into the family firm.
Jill, one of his sisters, also became a lawyer and now practices a long way away from Warwickshire - in Palo Alto in San Francisco.
David was articled in Sheffield in the 1970s and set about making sure he would be able to enjoy parallel careers by specialising in agriculture and rural affairs.
He married Kirstie, the daughter of a naval officer who lived at Wootton Wawen, in 1970 - and the early years of the marriage were spent in Sheffield.
When Bill Lodder became seriously ill the couple returned to Henley and David completed his articles at the family firm.
The ambition to farm was as strong as ever and now became achievable.
He started by breeding pigs, but when the opportunity came to take over the family farm on the death of an elderly tenant, he jumped at it and his father granted him an agricultural tenancy of the farm.
"We had 20 sows, we purchased some suckler cows, and a flock of sheep. Eventually we built the flock of sheep up to 300 ewes with Kirstie managing the lambing.
"It was pretty labour intensive. We were both working round the clock. I was never off a tractor!" he says. "As soon as I finished the office work I’d come back to feed the pigs and the cattle.
"I was working in the Henley office at the time and during the day if a cow was calving I’d shoot back home, calve the cow, and then rush back to see a client," he recalls.
"All this has helped me over the years to better relate to my agricultural clients because people who farm the land do have different needs to anybody else.
"They tend to be a cross between a commercial client and a private client. Normally I will be sorting their businesses out but it is always complicated because of the family element in the farming business.
"There is invariably a lot of money involved. Farmers might not make a lot of money - but the capital behind the business is always considerable. Farming has become very difficult in recent years because of all the red tape. Farmers had been privileged people up until 15 to 20 years ago.
"Their markets were guaranteed. They were not subject to many of the regulations which governed other industries - and they were exempt from some taxes.
"All the cushions have gone now. Furthermore the livestock industry has recently had to face the terrible effects of Foot and Mouth, and now Blue tongue and Avian Flu.
"Much of my work at Lodders is concerned with taxation, business potential, succession planning and the increase in land values.
"The needs of the new people coming into the countryside also need to be met. The key to survival for many farmers lies in cutting costs and utilising resources and in many cases repositioning their businesses.
"Diversification and variety is important too. Buildings for example can often be used to let out as offices or for holiday cottages.
"Much depends on the price of corn, which after years of depression seems to be strengthening - but I think we can say that someone with 300 acres of arable farm land 20 years ago could expect to make quite a good living.
"Now a farmer would need to look at 1,000 acres, perhaps more than that," he says.
"The big issue for farming and all of us in the next 20 years will be food security - will there be enough food to feed the world in the next 50 years?
"Demand for food is growing, climate change is a big factor and there is an ongoing battle here between the environment and food production.
"In this country politicians must decide whether the Government should provide the investment to keep livestock production in the uplands - or face the consequence of massive changes in the landscape."
In the late 1980s David Lodder found himself venturing more to London where he had a major client involved in the property development sector - so he gave up some of the farming.
"Property was booming and the client was expanding fast. I was going down to London probably two days a week. That all came to a nasty end in the early 1990s in the property slump when my client went into liquidation and I found myself exposed.
"Suddenly the big London client had gone and we were suffering as a firm with the substantial downturn in the property market."
The firm’s eight or nine partners in Henley and Stratford convened to have a rethink about policy.
David had around him an ambitious team who included his predecessor as senior partner Nigel Phillips, Martin Green, a specialist in private client work, and Victor Matts, a lawyer with a brilliant reputation in financial and commercial law.
"We decided to concentrate everything at Stratford because that was the commercial centre.
"I looked at my traditional client base and realised they were the farmers and landowners. The countryside was where I needed to refocus.
"We started investing money back into the business whereas before we’d taken out what we’d earned.
"The first big leap was to concentrate resources here in Stratford - which made us strong in certain areas. The next stage was when lawyers of the calibre of Rod Bird and Richard Ollis joined us.
"Then there was the move to new premises, which was another big step.
"Now, 14 years or so on from that original policy meeting we continue to attract top quality work and to recruit top quality lawyers out of Birmingham looking for a better lifestyle working out of Stratford-upon-Avon."
"We have no plans though to open a Birmingham office in the foreseeable future. I think that would detract from our core business, which is private client and we are based in the country.
"Going to Birmingham would stretch our resources and diminish our country brand."
As David and Kirstie’s young family grew up, the livestock was replaced by horses.
All of the five Lodder children were brought up to ride through the Pony Club route and have distinguished themselves in various areas of equestrianism.
"Thanks to Kirstie our children were on horses almost before they could walk!" he laughs.
Joe became a promising National Hunt jockey before injury blighted his career, while Will, an accountant in Birmingham, was active on the Warwickshire hunting scene.
Hannah combines her career as a firefighter in Worcestershire with point-to-pointing and Matt is a professional polo player and lives for part of the year in Argentina. Last but not least, Sophie is a leading member of the British Polocrosse team.
The Arden Polocrosse Club, which is sponsored by Lodders, has international players, hosts three tournaments a year and is based at the farm.
"Kirstie manages the horses - there are as many as 50 on the farm in the winter - and I manage the land, keep it in order, and make the hay.
"The sheep aren’t ours - but they clean up after the horses. Our main achievement is that we’ve kept it all intact. It could easily have been sold.
He adds: "I may be approaching the age when one takes things a bit easier but I seem to get busier as the years go on.
"I am in London probably two days a month working for the CLA. The work is hugely rewarding and keeps me in the forefront of many issues that are affecting landowners in these volatile times.
"My generation of farming clients are likewise approaching retirement age and I hope that with the experience I have gained over the past 30 years I am able to help them hand over to the next generation.
"In five years time when I have eased down there will be a new generation of farmers and lawyers on the scene. I might then devote a bit more time to my shooting and fishing.
"In the meantime I enjoy making the most of being surrounded - at work and at home - by exciting and motivated young people."