Access to justice heroes join LAG in celebrating 50 years of publishing, campaigning and training
In February, Legal Action Group celebrated 50 years since its incorporation, at a wonderful party at Gatehouse Chambers attended by its founders and friends.
Photos: Richard Gray/Rugfoot Photography
Lord Andrew Phillips (pictured left) has opened up many doors to the future, setting up the Citizenship Foundation in 1989 and co-founding the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (now known as LawWorks) in 1996. But before all this, he also, thankfully, co-founded LAG in 1972, becoming its first chairman. The idea for LAG had arisen a few months earlier, after a meeting at the Society of Labour Lawyers, when a decision was made to write a letter to The Law Society. The letter was a call to arms around legal aid and access to justice issues, and invited interested people to attend Andrew’s office. Records show that over 70 people turned up; his room was too small to hold everyone, so he had to borrow one from the lawyers upstairs.
LAG’s other founders were Simon Hillyard, Cyril Glasser and Richard White. We were fortunate to celebrate with Andrew and Simon at Gatehouse Chambers but sadly Cyril and Richard have both passed away. Susan Marsden-Smedley was also at the meeting in 1971 and subsequently became LAG’s first director. Susan told me, when we met five years ago, ‘The Bulletin was what it was all about: educating lawyers and others involved in advice-giving and getting out the information on issues that chiefly affected the poor.’ The Bulletin became Legal Action magazine, and we have since added books, the Community Care Law Reports and training to support LAG’s mission.
Top row L–R: Ole Hansen, former LAG director; Lord Andrew Phillips, founder; Laura Janes, current LAG chair; Roger Smith, former director; Simon Hillyard, founder
Bottom row L–R: Poonam Bhari, former chair; Sue James, LAG CEO; Alison Hannah, former director; Carol Storer, former director
Professor Leslie Thomas QC, LAG’s new patron, wasn’t able to attend but sent a few words: ‘In those early days I so admired those generous practitioners who had an abundance mentality and were willing to share what they knew for the good of the underdog, the homeless, the abused or the victim. That spirit continues today.’
Many authors and trainers have been a huge part of the LAG family over the past 50 years, sharing their knowledge and expertise. It was lovely to have Lady Hale celebrate with us, as Susan had told me that ‘Lady Hale saved LAG’ when she was a lecturer at Manchester University – travelling down on the train to teach courses for LAG in London. Although we can’t name everyone, we are extremely grateful for their time and generosity – creating the tools for frontline advocates and advisers to make change for those in need. Legal advice really does change lives.
Women in the law, including (front row L–R): Poonam Bhari; Lady Hale; Alison Hannah; Esther Pilger, LAG’s publishing director; and Sue James
Andrew has told me that the founders wanted a name that could stand the test of time and evolution – 50 years later, I think they achieved that and so much more. The challenge now is to take the original 1970s spirit of innovation into the 2020s to support and encourage the next generation of social justice lawyers.