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HFW is a modern, dynamic international law firm, with a proud history going back more than 140 years.

The firm’s roots date back even further, to the start of the nineteenth century and the Holmans, a family of sailing-ship owners in Topsham, a historic port town in the south of England. In 1832, the Holman family established the West of England Marine Insurance Association, a mutual hull insurance organisation, and six years later they formed The Exeter Shipping Insurance Association on a similar basis.

This was followed in 1855 by The Shipowners’ Protection Association – one of the world’s first shipping protection clubs – and in 1870 by The West of England Steamship Owners’ P&I Association Ltd, a club dedicated to steamships.

In 1873, to improve links and communication with the shipping and insurance markets, the managers, John Holman & Sons, moved their business to Lime Street, London. From there, they took a further step when, in 1883, Frank Holman, one of four brothers in the management company, set up in practice as a solicitor at 23 St. Mary Axe in the City of London. This was the origin of HFW.

Within two years, Frank Holman had joined with G.C. Downing and J.J. Handcock to form Downing & Holman. There were several changes in the partnership over the following decade, during which period Downing and Handcock left and the firm moved three times, ending up back at Lime Street. The firm was then named Holman, Birdwood & Co. In 1899, Cecil Holman and E.A. Fenwick joined, followed in 1905 by W.C. Willan, their surnames providing the initials that remain our name to this day.

In 1908, we moved from Lime Street to No. 1 Lloyds Avenue, and in 1916, when F.T. Birdwood left the partnership, the firm’s name was changed to Holman Fenwick & Willan.

We have grown and evolved considerably over the years to meet the changing needs of our clients.  While HFW remains the world’s leading maritime law firm, we now have six core sectors globally: aerospace, commodities, construction, energy, insurance, and shipping. We also have a large international network of 21 offices spanning the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia Pacific. HFW was one of the first UK-based law firms to expand internationally, opening offices in Paris in 1977 and Hong Kong in 1978. This was followed by offices in Singapore (1991), Piraeus (1993), Shanghai (1999), Dubai and Melbourne (both 2006), Brussels (2008), Sydney (2010), Geneva (2010), Perth (2011), Houston (2017), Abu Dhabi (2018), Monaco (2019), the BVI (2022), and, most recently, Shenzhen (2024). We also have a formal cooperation with Brazil’s leading insurance and aviation law firm, CAR, which has offices in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.