Authors:Fiona Bawdon and Chris Minnoch
Last updated:2023-09-28
The LALYs turn 21!
Marc Bloomfield
Description: LALYs
Last year’s wonderful 20th anniversary awards, and a return to an in-person event, have set the tone for this year’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards. After another challenging year for social justice lawyers, organisers Fiona Bawdon and Chris Minnoch explain why the LALYs are such an important event in the legal aid calendar.
The past year has been another tumultuous one for legal aid. Criminal barristers met the government head-on over a failure to implement the recommendations of the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid. After months of industrial action, the government conceded and advocates received the first fee increase for decades, inching them closer to something akin to sustainability. However, much remains to be resolved, particularly for criminal litigators, with reforms falling well short of the minimum recommended by the independent review. Civil practitioners continue to battle against a mounting tide of legal problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. The government is only now turning its attention to the sustainability of the civil sector, after so many years of neglect.
The exact wording of an annual retrospective may change, but year on year the lot for legal aid lawyers remains the same. Overworked and undervalued by government but overcoming obstacle after obstacle to provide exemplary services to some of the most vulnerable in society. Since their inception in 2003, the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards have shone a light on the achievements of the lawyers who dedicate their careers to publicly-funded work. The LALYs highlight the importance of this work, giving accolades to lawyers who rarely seek out acclaim and who commit themselves to the work irrespective of public recognition.
Last year, the LALYs’ 20th birthday was a night to remember. After lockdowns forced the previous two ceremonies online, it was more than a relief to be back in person. We were delighted to be joined by around 70 former winners, and to bestow special awards on Marcia Willis Stewart KC (Hon) and Young Legal Aid Lawyers as an individual and a group who exemplify the true spirit of the LALYs. Over 600 guests joined us to celebrate the welcome return to our central London venue in style. Raucous cheers greeted the winners of our 11 categories and barrister Zia Nabi as the judging panel’s choice for the coveted Outstanding Achievement award.
Help us to continue the LALY tradition
Each year, we receive a great deal of feedback about the LALYs – during the build-up, on the night itself and afterwards from those who have been touched by the awards. A word cloud would include ‘remarkable’ and ‘special’, but in its centre would be a big, bold ‘inspirational’. And that is exactly what we hope to achieve – to provide current practitioners with a fillip to keep going and to inspire the next generation of social justice lawyers to join.
Despite the encouraging feedback, one of the enduring traditions of the LALYs is to respond and adapt to the changing needs of practitioners. We did so during the pandemic, when cancelling the LALYs was unthinkable given the enormous toll that lockdown was having on practitioners and their clients. We regularly introduce new categories to capture the breadth of professionals contributing to the delivery of legal aid, such as last year’s Support Staffer award. We also constantly strive to reach as many practitioners as possible, from a geographic perspective, but also in terms of practice areas and demographic groups.
This is where we need your help each year. The LALYs rely on practitioners, clients and others involved in the social justice sector to make nominations. We’ve simplified the nomination process this year, with a reduction in the volume of supporting evidence to be submitted with the online form. But we also need everyone who is as passionate about legal aid as we are to spread the word about the LALYs to all corners of Wales, Northern Ireland and England, and to encourage, support or submit nominations for your legal aid hero. It could be a firm or legal advice charity working in your area, or a practitioner you have worked alongside or even against. What is key is that they are dedicated to using legal aid to make a difference to their clients or community.
Everyone on Team LALY loves the awards and reveres the professionals they celebrate. We know that, with your support, LALY23 will be another night to remember and a fitting tribute to the unsung heroes of legal aid, just as the first ever ceremony was back in 2003.
Send in your nominations by 24 April, do join us on 12 July, and look out in coming weeks for more news on how we plan to make the 21st LALYs a night to remember.
[biog] Fiona Bawdon is a legal affairs journalist and founder and organiser of the LALY awards; Chris Minnoch is CEO of Legal Aid Practitioners Group, which organises the awards on a not-for-profit basis.
LALY23 key information
LALY23 nominations close: 24 April 2023
We are seeking nominations in 11 categories:
1.Legal Aid Newcomer
2.Family Legal Aid
3.Criminal Defence
4.Legal Aid Barrister
5.Legal Aid Firm/Nor-for-Profit Agency
6.Social Welfare Law
7.Public Law
8.Regional Legal Aid Firm/Not-for-Profit Agency
9.Legal Aid Support Staffer
10.Children’s Rights
11.Immigration & Asylum
Plus, the LALY judges will be making an award for:
12.Outstanding achievement
Winners will be announced at a live, in-person ceremony in London on 12 July 2023. Tickets can be purchased from:
Follow us on Twitter for latest #LALY23 news: @LALYawards @WeAreLAPG