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Hannah Gannagé-Stewart

Deputy Editor, Solicitors Journal

And the winner is...

And the winner is...


Alan Larkin has had enough of legal awards, or maybe not

I won an award last month. It was quite an accomplishment considering I hadn’t, to my knowledge, even been nominated.

It was impressively grand. Something like, ‘International Private Client Wealth Management Rising Star’.

I was, as we say up North, ‘made up’. I imagined the pleasure my mother would get telling everyone in the hairdresser’s about my latest achievement.

The fact that I hadn’t ever knowingly or by accident dabbled in private client work was a mere detail. I convinced myself that I had some expertise in wealth management. Or at least, I’d chalked up a fair few years managing wealth division: parting or reuniting warring spouses with houses, dosh, yachts or pensions.

The ‘Rising Star’ bit was a challenge. Not sure I could honestly say my heavenly body was in a state of ascendency. The trajectory was flattish at best.

Probably even in declension give or take the odd twinkle. I was deflated to read that my acceptance of the award I had deservedly won required parting with a hefty bit of cash for a certificate and a nasty-sounding faux mahogany and gilt frame.

I imagined I could hang it next to my school days’ grade 3 metalwork certificate. Or my Merseyside Cub Scouts’ sack race triumphs 1970 and ‘71.

They could happily vie for gravitas and relevance. I have issues. Of course I do. Awards being one of them.

Perhaps it’s my age but awards bring out the cynic in me. All that razzmatazz and glamour, self-congratulatory, self-aggrandising ego trips.

My earliest memory as a young lawyer is enduring an awards evening of middle-aged, flushed-face men, smoking cigars and knocking back single malts. Chauvinist, sexist, and borish.

They may have had excellent legal minds but they did a top job of concealing them.

Arriving in law via the public and voluntary sectors I found this experience astonishing and depressing. #MeToo was still 25 years in the future although around that table it could well have been several centuries. 

I forever associate dinner suits with that experience and, to my team’s amusement, have harboured an aversion to climbing back into one ever since.

But, returning to the present, I fed my prejudice against awards by googling ‘Legal Awards UK’. A convenient site listed all the baubles available.

One of those irritating pop-up boxes told me that there were 3,500+ awards and that it’s not easy choosing which are both credible and winnable. (I laughed).

Reassuringly, there are awards to suit every budget. (I’ll bet). Hopefully more affordable than the Rising Star gong I’d already won in absentia.

Now, every cynic can be redeemed. The day after my hugely deserved international private client win I saw an email announcing the Law Society excellence awards. I ignored it. That’s not true.

I printed it out (bad enough) and used it as bedding for my guinea pigs. A week later, a colleague mentioned the Law Society awards and there was a lively chat about what it would feel like for the team to win something.

Faces were shining, smiles beaming, the office illuminated by hope and aspiration. What was wrong with me for begrudging hard-working lawyers one night of elevation above the grind? A celebration of something special? Truly, out of the ordinary?

I recalled attending the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards 2016. I wasn’t even doing legal aid then - that was all back in the day. I listened to one astonishing story of dedication after another.

Lawyers who put in a hell of a shift for modest remuneration on causes and cases normally ignored by the red tops unless it is to willfully misrepresent an aspect of public funding or the Human Rights Act.

I watched representatives of the Hillsborough families praise their lawyers for their professionalism and determination.

I watched Baroness Lawrence present awards to an array of indefatigable legal professionals we should be honoured and proud to include within our ranks.

Despite myself, I felt the throat thicken and the eyes moisten. So, that memory revived, my chastened hands retrieved the Law Society email from the guinea pigs’ clutches.

Every lawyer has their day. I could see those around me who deserved theirs.

Alan Larkin is a partner at Family Law Partners