Authors:Fiona Bawdon
Last updated:2023-09-18
‘My favourite night of the year’
Marc Bloomfield
Description: LALYs
Legal aid lawyers deserve an awards ceremony that is every bit as special as they are. Founder and co-organiser of the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards, Fiona Bawdon, explains what sets this grassroots event apart.
The legal awards firmament is a crowded one. But while other awards ceremonies recognising the work of solicitors and barristers come and go, Team LALY is proud to be marking the 21st year of this unique event.
The Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards are organised by Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG), on a non-profit basis, as an unashamed celebration of the work of lawyers on the social justice frontline (I am their founder and, along with LAPG CEO Chris Minnoch, co-organiser). It is these close links to the profession’s grassroots that make the LALYs so special, and unlike any other legal awards.
The LALYs are unique and distinct because the lawyers we celebrate are unlike any others across the entire legal profession. Legal aid tends to attract those who are not just exceptional lawyers but exceptionally courageous and compassionate human beings.
Each year, Team LALY’s challenge is to ensure that we create an event worthy of the legal aid profession. Some years that’s trickier than others. When lockdown happened in early 2020, Chris and I were immediately clear that postponing or scaling back that year’s ceremony was not an option. With legal aid lawyers and their clients being tested as never before, we knew the tonic the LALYs provide would be needed more than ever. And so, in four weeks, we reinvented the ceremony as an online event, retaining as many of the features as we could that have always set the LALYs apart from other legal awards. (You can watch the full LALY20 ceremony here and highlights here.)
By any measure, LALY20 was a success. So much so that it rendered one normally eloquent lawyer all but incoherent. Immediately after watching the live ceremony at home, they left me a voicemail, which I picked up the next morning, saying:
Oh, my god! That was amazing! Oh my god! I mean wow! You must be so proud. So proud of you. We’re both clapping. OK. Take care. Bye bye.
After two years of staging virtual ceremonies, 2022 saw a welcome return to an in-person event, and it’s clear that LALY magic had survived the hiatus.
The former senior partner at a large law firm said of last year’s event:
Most awards events leave me with mixed feelings about genuine achievement and overblown triumphalism – but not last night. Last night was an exceptional reminder of outstanding work being done, despite the draconian constraints on scope and funding.
Another guest, who quit legal practice many years ago, said: ‘It made me wish I was still at the Bar.’
We rely on financial support from a loyal band of sponsors to stage the LALYs; sponsors who are as passionate about access to justice as we are. We strive to keep ticket prices affordable in the hope that anyone who works in legal aid, whose spirits would benefit from a night out with kindred spirits, can attend.
As a former winner and regular attendee of the ceremony says:
It just shows you your place in the whole system and how important it is. It is just such an inspiring event from start to finish. Just being there as an audience member, listening to the stories, hearing what the finalists have done, and being with people who are equally dedicated to trying to make our justice system work a bit better is inspirational in itself. It’s my favourite night of the year. I absolutely love it.
LALY23 ceremony lowdown
LALY23 winners will be announced at a ceremony in central London on 12 July 2023
Advance booking essential (admission strictly by ticket only and we always sell out): general admission: £45; Young Legal Aid Lawyers members: £15
Compère: broadcaster Symeon Brown; presenter: Helena Kennedy KC
12 award categories, covering all areas of legal aid practice