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Dana Denis-Smith

Founder - CEO, Obelisk Support

Gareth Peirce receives Lifetime Achievement Award at Inspirational Women in Law Awards

Gareth Peirce receives Lifetime Achievement Award at Inspirational Women in Law Awards

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Gareth Peirce, leading human rights lawyer and senior partner at Birnberg Peirce, has received a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Inspirational Women in Law Awards

Ms Peirce is one of 12 award winners announced this evening at an awards ceremony hosted by Clifford Chance and addressed by Lady Chief Justice, Dame Sue Carr. The awards recognise those who are both excelling in their areas of practice and are working for the changes needed to ensure women working in the law can thrive.

In her 45-year legal career, Ms Peirce has been involved in some of the most iconic human rights cases in recent British legal history. These include representing the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead at Stockwell tube station in a bungled terrorism raid and most recently, Shamima Begum, the British-born woman who entered Syria to join the terror group Islamic State at the age of 15.

After studying at Oxford University, Ms Peirce worked in the United States as a journalist covering Martin Luther King Jr. Inspired by his example, she returned to London in 1970 to study law, specialising in human rights and qualifying as a solicitor in 1978, working with the late Benedict Birnberg and rising to senior partner at Birnberg Peirce where she has worked for her entire career.

Other award winners this year are:

  • Solicitor of the Year: Jodie Hill, Thrive Law. A neurodivergent solicitor, Equality Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) consultant, training provider, author and campaigner, Jodie launched her own law firm five years ago, with the founding principles of mental health and wellbeing.
  • Barrister of the Year: Jessica Powers, New Square Chambers. Jessica has spearheaded several EDI initiatives for the Bar and her own chambers, including the Social Mobility Mini-Pupillage, the Stephen Lawrence Day essay competition, an annual internal gender and race pay gap review and a judicial and KC appointments mentorship scheme.
  • In-House Lawyer of the Year: Kate Cheetham, Chief Legal Officer and Company Secretary of Lloyds Banking Group (LBG). Kate has been heavily involved in EDI throughout her time at LBG including as co-chair of its women’s network, Breakthrough, which has a membership of over 10,000 people.
  • Rising Star of the Year: Arina Stelmokaite, solicitor apprentice, Allen & Overy. Arina is an active member of the Gender Equality Network and A&Out, the firm’s LGBTQ+ network, building connections with senior legal professionals to share lessons on how to break into law with her junior legal community. She also volunteers for GROW Mentoring.
  • Champion of the Year: Reena Parmar, counsel at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. Through her role at The Law Society's Disabled Solicitors Network, Reena has mentored students from diverse backgrounds, raising awareness of diversity within the capital markets sector and contributing towards her firm’s EDI efforts.
  • CILEX Lawyer / Chartered Legal Executive of the Year: Louise Fisher, court support lawyer, Ashurst. The only CILEX-qualified lawyer at her firm, her tenacity and determination have inspired her colleagues and provides an inspiration to future female CILEX professionals.
  • Legal Academic of the Year: Rachel McPherson, co-lead of the Women in Law Project, a collaboration between the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Caledonian University which seeks to research the history, document the present, and advocate for the future of women in law in Scotland.
  • Humanitarian advocate of the Year: Maab Saifeldin, trainee solicitor, Next15. Maab came to the UK as a refugee and has worked as a Lead University Coordinator of #WOKEWeekly at Lancaster University, exploring topics from racism to violence against women. She has spoken at an All-Party Parliamentary Group session on the Darfur genocide.
  • Paralegal of the Year: Eve Bottalico: Spurred on by her experiences of sexism, Eve took action to address it head on with both the individual involved, and her employer, working to find solutions that foster safe work environments.
  • Mentor of the Year: Mellissa Akinya, senior lawyer and diversity and disability officer, Government Legal Department. Mellissa has mentored hundreds of aspiring lawyers and has successfully lobbied and campaigned to open up the lawyer recruitment to CILEX qualified applicants and those who qualified as solicitors by alternative means. She is also the founder and director of Black Lawyers Circle which seeks to unify Black and ethnic lawyers from all areas of the legal profession.
  • Law Student of the Year: Amy Evans, Allen & Overy and University of Nottingham law ambassador. Amy has been candid about studying and applying for graduate roles whilst battling mental health issues, seeking to break down barriers and encourage equality within the legal profession. She is working on Able: a platform designed to help neurodivergent and disabled students navigate the early careers sector.

Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support and founder of the Next 100 Years says: “This amazing group of women are making a real difference, supporting and inspiring other women in law, campaigning for women’s rights and speaking out on behalf of those underrepresented in the legal profession.

“As a fearless human rights lawyer, working on some of the most significant human rights and civil liberties cases of the past 45 years, Gareth Peirce has fought to keep justice in the balance. This award is recognition of her commitment - a legendary force, always moving the focus from herself to her clients. Her battles against miscarriages of justice have changed legal history and her achievements continue to be a huge source of inspiration to others and at a time of crisis in the criminal justice and legal aid systems. Those coming up can take inspiration from her, picking up the baton to do critical and important work that impacts us all.”

As well as being guest speaker at the event, Lady Chief Justice, Dame Sue Carr, was also one of the women recognised in Obelisk Support’s Women Who Will report, launched on the night, honouring the talented and inspiring women who are future leaders in law and who are helping to create a legal profession that’s free from bias and discrimination.