Lawyers: If you can't stand the heatâ€¦
As Felicity Gerry QC battled with sirens from Grand Connaught Rooms' kitchen, a number of big name firms were fighting fires of their own. John van der Luit-Drummond writes
Things we learned at this week's Solicitors Journal Awards: Andrew Marr is a rock star; in-house legal teams can compete with their private sector counterparts; and Felicity Gerry QC will not be silenced by anything - not even a false fire alarm.
Picking a keynote speaker for a showpiece event is a daunting prospect. Do you fork out for a well-known comedian who will likely spend the night insulting your honoured guests with clichéd lawyer jokes, or engage the services of one of the country's leading political journalists? Judging by the number of lawyers desperate for a selfie with Andrew Marr, we chose wisely.
In fact, the only person to grab more attention than Marr was Gerry, who was mobbed with well-wishers following her win for Legal Personality of the Year. Even as a fire alarm tried to disrupt proceedings, the 36 Bedford Row silk showered praise on her team from the landmark Jogee case and described herself as 'just the shouty woman at the front' who, for a 'comprehensive-schooled Essex girl', had 'done alright' for herself.
Another highlight of the evening was the roars of surprise from UNISON Legal's and Oldham Council's legal teams after scooping employment and property teams of the year respectively. Despite some perhaps assuming they were only there to make up the numbers, these two in-house departments successfully fought off stiff competition from the likes of Lewis Silkin, Nabarro, and White & Case to be crowned worthy winners on the night.
As SJ's managing editor Laura Clenshaw highlighted during her opening address, lawyers are not always held in the highest regard by the public or mainstream press. Awards such as ours are, therefore, a way of recognising the important - and sometimes vital - work undertaken by the profession. The SJ team would like to thank everyone who took the time to nominate and attend our inaugural awards ceremony. You all helped make the night a huge success and we look forward to welcoming you back next year.
The celebrations of Wednesday night will have given some welcome relief to what would have otherwise been a bad week for Leigh Day. Though named Personal Injury Team of the Year for its ground-breaking work representing mesothelioma victims, the spectre of the Al-Sweady inquiry loomed large.
The firm has discovered it is to face charges for allegedly making prohibited referral fees totalling £75,000 and failing to deliver documents to the inquiry investigating claims British soldiers mistreated Iraqis in 2004. In total, the firm is facing 19 counts of wrongdoing by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The allegations are subject to a hearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and are as yet unproven. Leigh Day has denied any wrongdoing.
Leigh Day was not the only high-profile firm in hot water this week, however. Linklaters and Olswang face a public grilling by MPs for allegedly failing to perform proper due diligence on the buyer of collapsed retail giant BHS, Dominic Chappell, who has twice been declared bankrupt. Giving evidence to the House of Commons business, innovation and skills committee, Linklaters corporate partner Owen Clay and Olswang general counsel Stephen Hermer defended their firms' work, despite tough questions from Labour MP Frank Field. What would they have given for a timely fire alarm drill?