Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Solicitors Journal Award winners revealed

Solicitors Journal Award winners revealed


White & Case, Hogan Lovells, and Bindmans among a host of big name winners at new legal awards

The lines have closed. The votes have been verified. Finally, the winners of the inaugural Solicitors Journal Awards: Recognising brilliance in a changing legal world have been revealed.

Commercial Team of the Year – White & Case

Shortlisted – Eaton Smith and Oldham Council

Global law firm White & Case scooped the Commercial Team of the Year award after making a significant impact on the development of commercial law and for consistently exhibiting outstanding expertise and dedication to its clients.

The judges were incredibly impressed with the firm, whose work on developing the UK private placement exemption was ranked as one of the top corporate law deals of the year across Europe in the Financial Times’s ‘Innovative Lawyers Report 2015’.

The team’s expert work over the past 12 months has seen White & Case advise clients on some of the biggest, most complex deals, often negotiated opposite Magic Circle firms.

High-profile deals have included being the underwriters of the Sophos initial public offering – the UK’s largest ever technology IPO – and advising Alpha Trains on the multi-billion dollar acquisition of rail operations from RBS.

Peita Menon, head of the UK tax group at White & Case, said: ‘I am delighted that the innovation and creativity of the tax practice at White & Case has been recognised by Solicitor Journal.

‘We are one of the few tax practices in the City which combines cutting edge tax transactional work with high impact commercially focussed structuring and advisory capability and this important award is a testament to our unique market offering.’


Employment Team of the Year – UNISON Legal

Shortlisted – Bindmans, Chadwick Lawrence, Lewis Silkin, and White & Case

For furthering the principle of access to justice against the continuing reduction in funding and resources and consistently exhibiting outstanding expertise and dedication to its clients, UNISON Legal, the union’s in-house legal team, has been awarded the accolade of Employment Team of the Year.

With cuts in the public sector and changes to the funding of legal services, UNISON Legal has faced a number of challenges to secure access to justice for its members.

The judging panel was impressed by the team’s excellent ongoing casework, particularly UNISON v the Lord Chancellor, the ground-breaking judicial review challenge to the introduction of employment tribunal fees, which will be decided by the Supreme Court this year.

Another high-profile case is Lock v British Gas, which considered whether regular commission payments should be included in paid annual leave. UNISON Legal took the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union and then successfully defended it in the Employment Appeal Tribunal. 

UNISON's general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: 'I’m delighted that the work of our legal team has been recognised with this award.

'Every day they are countering injustice in the workplace and challenging unfair laws introduced by government. This shows why everyone at work should belong to a union.'


Family Team of the Year – Stephensons Solicitors

Shortlisted – Dawson Cornwell, Family Law in Partnership, Irwin Mitchell, KGW Family Law, and Turpin & Miller

Having impressed with its innovative take on legal services aimed to meet the demands of a modern day legal practice, Stephensons Solicitors have been awarded the title of Family Team of the Year.

Stephensons wowed the judges with the exceptionally high level of case work carried out, as well as its dedication to clients. In addition, the panel was impressed by the firm’s commitment to supporting local communities and charities.

In addition, Stephensons has led court room skills workshops for Barnardo’s staff and delivered GP post-graduate training on domestic violence issues at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

The family team has also provided extensive training and support to Citizens Advice Bureaux staff across the North of England. All were provided pro bono. The judges also noted newly introduced fixed-fee services, ‘DIY’ packages, and online guides introduced by the firm, following cuts to legal aid.

Natalie Gamble Associateswere presented with a Highly Commended award for its excellent work in assisted reproduction and LGBT family law, as well as its efforts in campaigning to win maternity leave rights for parents through surrogacy.

Judges also highlighted the impressive Brilliant Beginnings, the firm’s non-profit surrogacy agency that aims to give practical help to clients, and campaigns for surrogacy law reform.

The team’s work – carried out by a small team of nine in an alternative business structure managed by a solicitor and a non-lawyer – has been featured in The Times, and the team has worked on five reported cases in the last year.


Legal Aid Team of the Year – Bindmans

Shortlisted – Duncan Lewis Solicitors, Coram Children's Legal Centre, South West London Law Centres, the Howard League for Penal Reform

With its commitment to furthering and championing access to justice against the continuing reduction in funding and resources, the award for Legal Aid Team of the Year has been presented to Bindmans.

The London-based firm has become increasingly well-known for litigating to safeguard legal aid. The firm represented the Law Society in its judicial review of ‘dual contracting’ arrangements for duty solicitor work, and successfully brought multiple procurement challenges against the flawed and eventually abandoned scheme.

Bindmans’s series of ‘Legal Aid Practice Survival Kit’ seminars were also described as ‘innovative’ and ‘impressive’ by the judging panel.

The firm was recently successful in challenging restrictions to inquest funding for relatives of the deceased and, acting for the Public Law Project, won a Supreme Court appeal against the racially discriminatory legal aid residence test.

Jamie Potter, a partner in the public law and human rights team, commented: ‘It was an honour to be the only firm shortlisted for three separate awards and to win the award for Legal Aid Team of the Year. 

‘Bindmans is proud of fighting for the fundamental concepts of equal access to justice and the rule of law, and of the outcomes we achieve for our clients – including other legal aid firms committed to public service. It is particularly gratifying to have the firm’s work recognised by its peers in this manner.’


Legal Education Provider of the Year – Nottingham Law School at Nottingham Trent University

Shortlisted – CILEx Law School, Avon & Bristol Law Centre's Legal Advocacy Support Project, Manchester Law School at Manchester Metropolitan University, Northumbria Law School, The University of Law/Aspiring Solicitors

Nottingham Law School’s pioneering approach to legal education made an immediate impression on the judges, who chose it for Legal Education Provider of the Year.

The school is consistently at the forefront of legal education innovation and has developed a diverse range of degrees aimed at enhancing student skills and employability in a changing legal market.

In 2015, it launched the unique NLS Legal Advice Centre to give all students the opportunity to work within a fully regulated and functioning ‘teaching law firm’ as part of their studies.

The dean of Nottingham Law School, Professor Janine Griffiths-Baker, said: ‘We are all absolutely thrilled. This award is particularly prestigious and reflects the excellent and innovative work undertaken by the whole school.

‘I was honoured to collect it on behalf of the School and thank everyone for their contribution towards this tremendous achievement.’


Litigation Team of the Year – Mishcon de Reya

Shortlisted – Blake Morgan, Boodle Hatfield, Radcliffe Chambers, Stevens & Bolton, and Wedlake Bell

Boasting one the most comprehensive dispute resolution practices in London, Mishcon de Reya is a force to be reckoned with in the litigation world and has now been recognised as Litigation Team of the Year.

The judging panel was ‘incredibly impressed’ with Mishcon de Reya’s complex case work, which demonstrated the firm’s ‘dexterity and competence’ in both domestic and international matters.

A spokesperson for the firm said: 'A big thank you to Solicitors Journal for hosting a great inaugural awards evening. Our litigation team thoroughly enjoyed the night and we are delighted to have been named Litigation Team of the Year.'


Personal Injury Team of the Year – Leigh Day

Shortlisted – Aspire Law, Bindmans, Hill Dickinson, and Horwich Cohen Coghlan

Leigh Day’s ground-breaking work with people suffering from asbestos-related diseases, including achieving the highest compensation award for pain and suffering in mesothelioma cases to date in Ghoorah, saw it take home the award for Personal Injury team of the year.

Particularly impressive was the judicial review challenge to government legislation that would have seen mesothelioma sufferers charged £10,000 to begin court proceedings, in which the firm took on the Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove and was successful.

Harminder Bains, a partner at the firm, said: 'We are absolutely delighted to be recognised for our work and are enormously grateful to the Solicitors Journal and the judging panel for this award as recognition of what we believe is a crucial fight for justice on behalf of all victims of negligent exposure to asbestos.  
'However, the continuous costs cutting measures introduced by Lord Jackson and this government are making these cases even more difficult to fight. Lord Jackson’s proposed cost grid will, inevitably, mean more members of the public will be denied access to justice as the number of law firms able to handle this type of work continues to diminish.  
'We would call on all lawyers, including members of the Judiciary, to make clear to the government, and the insurance companies it supports, the dire consequences of these reforms.' 


Private Client Team of the Year – Lyons Davidson

Shortlisted – Payne Hicks Beach, Radcliffe Chambers, Mishcon de Reya, and Wedlake Bell

National firm Lyons Davidson impressed the judging panel with its product innovation and inventive client acquisition strategies.

In November 2015, the firm launched an online legal document tool on behalf of the AA; the system offers clients the opportunity to complete simple documents, such as non-tax planning wills and powers of attorney from the comfort and convenience of their own home.

The panel was also overwhelmed by the positive feedback supplied in their supporting documentation, with one client crediting the firm, saying ‘What could have been a lengthy headache became instead a very positive experience.’

Tamara Hasson, Private Client Group leader, said: ‘The whole team are absolutely over the moon about winning this award. We are incredibly proud of the work we do. We place a huge emphasis on delivering excellent client service in a way which clients want. That means offering a choice of how we deliver our legal advice: whether it’s in person, electronically or through a remote system – whatever suits that client.

'We are also extremely keen to keep prices clear, so that clients know exactly what service they are paying for and there are no nasty surprises. Our clients do appreciate this approach and it was an enormous boost to the team to receive such warm client endorsements, which were instrumental in our winning. It is phenomenally exciting to have that hard work recognised by such a well-respected and high-profile publication as Solicitors Journal.’


Property Team of the Year – Oldham Council

Shortlisted – Bircham Dyson Bell, Nabarro, and Pemberton Greenish

Oldham’s Council’s in-house corporate legal team fought off stiff competition from its private practice rivals to win Property Team of the Year.

The team has been integral to regeneration schemes in Oldham – including two new leisure centres, the Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps development, and the Old Town Hall –each will create jobs, increase trade, bring in extra revenue, and stimulate the local economy.

Special praise was reserved for the work transforming the Old Town Hall, which has covered a number of disciplines and required multiple skillsets. The judges were extremely impressed with the work being carried out by the local authority in the face of increasing financial pressures and their commitment to improving the fortunes of the borough.

The leader of Oldham Council, Councillor Jean Stretton, commented: 'We are delighted and extremely proud to have won Property Team of the Year at the inaugural  Solicitors Journal Awards in the face of such prestigious competition. To be recognised in this way has raised our profile nationally and means a great deal to us. We would like to thank Solicitors Journal for this award.'


Pro Bono Team of the Year – Hogan Lovells

Shortlisted – Allen & Overy, DLA Piper, Huddersfield Law Society, Uganda Twinning Project, and Kingsley Napley

Hogan Lovells's ‘passionate, heartfelt, and simply outstanding’ application certainly struck a chord with the judges. In 2015, the firm obtained over £165,000 in compensation for nine victims of human trafficking.

In addition, Hogan Lovells advised the Poppy Project, a charity assisting trafficked women, in the case of IK, PU and Y v SSHD, which found that the Home Office had acted unlawfully by placing trafficking victims into the Detained Fast Track asylum process.

Providing a testimonial for the firm’s work, Kevin Hyland, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, wrote: ‘The free legal work undertaken by firms such as Hogan Lovells is not only important to individuals at the time of their case but significantly reduces the chances of re-victimisation and allows them to rebuild their lives.’

Sarah Michael, Ivan Shiu, Rebecca Wales and Yasmin Waljee OBE who, together, head up the firm's anti-human trafficking team, said: 'Human trafficking doesn't just happen in faraway places. It happens in cities, suburbs, farms and villages across the UK, Europe and the world.  Women who survive trafficking are traumatised and lonely, often with no documentation, support or network to help them rebuild their lives. 

'We are in a position to help. Our human trafficking programme helps victims pursue claims for compensation to allow them to make choices for themselves, whether in the UK or in their home country. We are delighted to have won a Solicitors Journal Award recognising our work in this area, which we are committed to continuing and expanding.'


Regional Team of the Year – Muckle

Shortlisted – asb law, Farnfields, Forbes Solicitors, and Larcomes

The North East heavyweight impressed the panel with its sheer amount of corporate social responsibility (CSR) work and the dedication demonstrated by the firm to its clients, employees, and the community.

The firm’s annual growth of 7 per cent over each of the last five years exemplifies its progress. With limited economic growth in the region, CSR is key to Muckle’s business strategy. In the last 12 months, the firm has contributed over £100,000 (notional value) in pro bono work, while its staff have volunteered over 2,500 hours to numerous projects.

Senior partner Hugh Welch said: 'We are delighted to be recognised for different aspects that are so important to us all at Muckle.

'Our CSR work is a vital part of who we are and is one of our core values in being a responsible business. Everyone at Muckle plays their part in helping to make a real and lasting contribution to improving our local environment. We never underestimate how important it can be just by offering our assistance to community projects.'

Jason Wainwright, managing partner at Muckle, added: 'This award is a great testament to our firm-wide dedication to strive towards being excellent and leading in everything that we do. I would like to thank our entire team for their inspiring commitment to North East businesses and the NE community around us.”

'We will continue to focus our strategy on advising businesses and helping people across the North East in the communities where we all live and work which distinguishes us from our competitors.'


Rising Star – Katie Brown, TV Edwards

Shortlisted – Celina McGregor, Herbert Smith Freehills and Priya Tromans, Harrison Clark Rickerbys

Brown’s legal career has flourished since qualifying, with notable achievements in and out of her firm, leading to her victory at last night’s awards.

Announced partner of the Housing and Community Care department at TV Edwards – for which she is also deputy head – only six years PQE is testament to her rapid rise.

Meanwhile, she has been co-chair of Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) from 2011 to 2015, promoting a sustainable legal aid system in light of significant cuts. Pursuing that extra mile for a profession she clearly cares about, the judges were unanimous in an extremely deserving award win.

‘I’d like to say thanks to the Solicitors Journal for organising the awards and highlighting the good work that the profession continues to do for clients,’ said Brown. ‘Although there was a specific category for legal aid firm of the year I was very proud to be the only legal aid lawyer shortlisted in the rising star award, and even more proud to win on the basis of the work I’ve done on legal aid issues over the last few years.’

Brown also praised the work of the YLAL: ‘The group has been going for over ten years and continues to grow from strength to strength campaigning tirelessly on access to justice issues and social mobility in the legal aid profession.

‘Social mobility in particular is such an important issue as young people trying to qualify face enormous hurdles including student debt, unpaid or low income work experience placements, and fewer legal aid firms offering training contracts.

‘If we want to continue to provide a good publicly-funded legal advice system then it’s important young people are encouraged to pursue a career in those areas of law traditionally funded by legal aid to ensure there’s a next generation of legal aid lawyers able to provide that crucial advice and representation.’

Cecily White, a barrister from Serjeants’ Inn Chambers was presented with a Highly Commended award. Called to the Bar in 2011, White has not looked back as she continues to immerse herself in high-profile and complex police law cases – often against far more senior barristers – at an early stage of her career. Notable cases include the Deepcut and Perepilichnyy inquests, and the Challenger II litigation.

'I am committed to doing my best for my clients so I'm absolutely delighted to receive this award from a publication which is so key to solicitors,' she said.


Lifetime Achievement Award – Richard Barr

Solicitors Journal’s longest-serving author, Richard Barr, received a Lifetime Achievement Award last night. Barr has become a staple of SJ through his monthly column on the trials and tribulations of legal practice for the last 25 years.

‘For me it was an amazing experience – something to be savoured for years to come. It was wonderful to get such a public endorsement of my writings for SJ,’ he remarked.


Legal Personality of the Year – Felicity Gerry QC

Shortlisted – Adam Wagner and Peter Stefanovic

36 Bedford Row silk Felicity Gerry QC scooped the highly coveted Legal Personality award following her work on R v Jogee. The landmark decision saw the Supreme Court find that the controversial principle of joint enterprise had been wrongly interpreted for more than three decades.

The human rights barrister has received praise for her campaigning work for the release of Lindsay Sandiford, the British grandmother currently facing a firing squad in Bali and for assisting in the last minute reprieve from execution of Filipina Mary Jane Veloso.

'I was delighted to win this award especially with such exceptional competition. I hope it inspires other women with personality to achieve in the law,' said Gerry.