Gurjeet Nanrah meets a solicitor of nearly 30 years to find out how Nottingham helped build his criminal defence firm into one of the biggest in England and Wales.
Watching him in court, he knows its layout like any judge or barrister who has walked through its door’s countless times, never misplacing a step or his white stick.
You can see him mentally prepare before his statement, closing his eyes, rarely pausing to think when he speaks continuously for at least five minutes.
When the prosecutor has concluded their argument, the solicitor articulates his points, focusing on the essential and without being able to refer to any notes, he never stumbles or lets his blindness hamper his argument.
After sitting back down he does well to put off the prosecutor, who riles through papers trying to remember which points to make.
Digby Johnson was meant to be a criminal defence lawyer.
The 58-year-old solicitor has built a successful reputation in Nottingham where he is based and believes this is largely down to a sense of community in the city.
He said: “I’ve been very lucky over the years and Nottingham is a very well-connected city within itself so it’s not like some cites where there are parts of town where some people would never come across each other.
“In Nottingham, to be frank, if you know someone who lives in Sneinton then they may very well know someone who lives in Bulwell, or Hucknall, or Arnold.”
He has built up clients largely by word-of-mouth, which has been easier because in Nottingham ‘there’s one centre people tend to coalesce around, people tend to talk more so there’s a very definite sense of culture and community.’
Digby’s firm has over ten offices across England and Wales but getting to that stage was not easy.
The fact his sight deteriorated to the point of blindness at the age of eight did not help either.
However, he still studied law at Cambridge, conveying his tenacity as a successful criminal defence lawyer and how he would not let anything stand in his way.
Being a solicitor since 1984, Digby faced challenges early in his career.
Summing this up, the father of two recalled how on his first night as a duty solicitor, he had to offer his services to a man who had thrown a glass of wine at a taxi after a party.
“In the morning I went to see him, and he said: ‘I wanted a solicitor, not a cripple.’
“I had to rise above it, even though I had been up for 23 hours and knew if I did a job for him I would teach him a lesson,” the solicitor added.
He mentioned there have been several similar instances since.
The Johnson Partnership, founded in 1990, with Digby a founding member, has offices in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire and other locations.
His firm has many partners from diverse backgrounds and now has ‘more women than men, even in senior roles’ showing its progressive approach.
The respect Digby has been able to attain is reflected by those he works with daily.
Simon Eckersley, a barrister in Nottingham, said: “I’ve known Digby for over 20 years in a professional and personal capacity and he’s a pretty impressive bloke, notwithstanding his innate ability to assimilate and digest data and extract the essential, nor his court presence or his mitigation – which are impressive.”
The 47-year-old explained: “It’s his ability to understand people, appreciate their motivations and his desire to help them.”
Digby’s ability to communicate well allows him to present his arguments as agreeably as possible, even when deliberating in front of the harshest of judges.
He explained to CBJ News how his blindness means a continuous struggle in developing trust with new people and potential clients, resulting in a constant need to prove he is as capable as any other lawyer.
Inevitably, each time he meets somebody new he has to persuade them that as a blind solicitor, he is the best person to help.
“If you go and see a lawyer, and the lawyer is surrounded by paper, and can’t read anything on the paper, you might think ‘what the hell is happening here?’
“The constant challenge, and it literally is every time you meet someone new, is to establish that they can have trust in you, they can have faith in you and that you will deliver.”
Digby has overcome these prejudices with his ability to deliver for his clients and his position as an underdog is what inspired him to take up criminal defence.
“An unexpected result [in the courtroom] gives someone a chance they didn’t even know they could get and that gives you a real buzz.
He explained: “Seeing someone with so many so problems and knowing you can’t help them with all that, but there is a specific problem you can take and you can sort out, and if you can, maybe that’s just the start of them seeing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Digby’s passion for aiding people’s legal troubles and improving their lives is why he is the person you would want to defend your freedom.