Some people might say that professional awards ceremonies are just an excuse for communal back-slapping and for legal journals to make some money, fill a few pages and sell advertising and sponsorship.
I was one of those people and might be again next week, but for one night only I was happy to celebrate the success of our profession, the people and firms who have worked quietly, passionately and often unnoticed to change lives, perceptions and even the law for the better.
I was at The Law Society’s Excellence Awards, in the cavernous basement hangar of a luxury London hotel, hauntingly lit in Asda, sorry, ‘Law Society green’ with LED chandeliers like pound-shop Christmas decorations twinkling in a variety of ever-changing primary colours above our heads. I’m sure it was only a coincidence that this was the week before Halloween and that the room hadn’t been prepared in advance for a ballroom blitz. I don’t think I looked out of place among the other guests, hosts and nominees. If anything, the skull pattern on my bow tie helped me fit in with the scene more than most.
It soon became clear that the Excellence Awards are well established in the legal awards calendar and are already in their seventh year. Mishal Husain was on hosting duties and the opening remarks were presented by Justice Minister, Lord McNally, apparently standing in for an absent Nick Clegg. Taking to the stage, the Lib Dem peer left president Nick Fluck momentarily ‘Fluckstered’ as he complimented Husain on how well she looked, despite getting up at 3am to present the Today programme. A noticeably bemused audience was quickly assured as he continued; surely one can pay someone a compliment “in these politically correct times”?
Celebrating women lawyers
It was nonetheless a good night for women lawyers. Of the seven individual awards, five were presented to women, with some calling into question the need for the specific Legal Business Woman award with the competition seemingly balanced in favour of the female sex. It is still important, however, to recognise that the balance does not extend across all levels of the profession, in spite of the apparent success stories on show here. This was perhaps evidenced by the shock across the faces by each of the winners as their names were read out.
Noticeable among these winners was Uma Mehta, in-house solicitor for the London Borough of Islington, who, for a moment, seemed she might not make it to the stage such was her shock. She has worked beyond her role to improve child care proceedings and, like each of the winners, was humbled by the reception she received.
A mention should also go to Elkan Abrahamson, who was the popular recipient of the Legal Personality award, named after a less well-known legal journal than this fine institution, for his work with the families of the victims of Hillsborough.
But the climax of the night was the Lifetime Achievement award, which went to Fiona Woolf CBE, who is soon to take her position in the procession to celebrate her as only the second-ever female Lord Mayor of London. Fiona Woolf is truly an inspiration, not only to women, but to all lawyers. Showing pride and passion for the legal profession and accepting the award with humility and grace, she was a deserving winner.
I am confident, having spent some time with her as a fellow ‘midwife’ of the Junior Lawyers Division, that despite the many accolades and awards she already has to her name and lectures named after her, as a former president of the Law Society and Chair of the Association of Women Solicitors, this will mean a lot. Having done so much herself, I am sure she will have smiled that night to see the historical gender imbalance redressed.
After a big meal and no time for dancing before I had to leave, I was happy to be part of the broad spectrum of talent we have and joined the party, cheering on my colleagues for their innovation, creative thinking, community spirit and dedication.
This article first appeared in the Solicitors Journal and is reproduced here with kind permission