Authors:Fiona Bawdon
Last updated:2024-03-28
Marc Bloomfield
Description: LALY24 logo
The other most wonderful time of the year …
With nominations for this year’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards now open, Fiona Bawdon explains what makes this celebration of the work of the social justice sector so magical.
Photos: Richard Gray/rugfoot photography
Anyone who revels in everything to do with the Christmas period as much as I do is likely to have found the past couple of months – with their dark evenings, miserable weather and lack of anything to celebrate – a bit of a slog. Which is why the launch of the annual Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards always brings such a welcome burst of warmth and good cheer.
From 26 February (when LALY24 nominations opened), ’tis very much the season to start thinking about the legal aid lawyers who inspire you with their expertise, compassion and dedication to their clients, and whose efforts ensure access to justice for ordinary people is more than just a slogan or an aspiration. This is the time to nominate the organisations and individuals who keep the social justice flame alive, despite all the utterly maddening challenges which everyone in the sector knows so well.
There are so many reasons why the LALY awards are magical, and ways in which they are different from the other myriad legal award ceremonies. Key among these is that the LALYs are non-profit-making and inclusive.
Now into their 22nd year, the LALYs are organised by Legal Aid Practitioners Group. They are funded by a combination of sponsorship (of which more below), crowdfunding (ditto), tickets sales (we keep prices deliberately low to try to ensure that no one who wants to attend is unable to do so due to unaffordability), and a huge amount of goodwill and effort from LAPG staff and board members, led by CEO Chris Minnoch, and Team LALY volunteers.
The LALYs are the only legal awards we know of that are open to a wide range of people working in the legal aid sector – not just solicitors and barristers, but caseworkers, legal executives and paralegals. In 2022, in this inclusive spirit, we introduced a category for support staff, to recognise the immense contribution of those who work behind the scenes to keep the social justice show on the road. This year, we are going a step further and extending this award to include support teams as well as individual staffers. We have kept the criteria as wide as possible, to include those working in reception, office management, billing, HR, IT, and much more.
Description: Support staffer winner Katayoon Zare
Katayoon Zare, office manager at TRP Solicitors and winner of the 2023 Legal Aid Support Staffer award.
From the outset of the LALYs, we have sought to recognise not just the individuals but organisations that go the extra mile, with our Legal Aid Firm/Not-for-Profit Agency award. A few years ago, we created an additional award specifically for organisations based away from the capital. We wanted to acknowledge the vital contribution and unique challenges faced by organisations all across the jurisdiction. Last year, we were delighted that all six finalists in both these award categories (Legal Aid Firm/NfP Agency and Regional Legal Aid Firm/NfP Agency) hailed from outside London. (London firms/NfPs are, of course, extremely welcome to make nominations in the former category for LALY24.)
We are also the only legal awards where we crowdfund for sponsorship of one of our awards: the always uplifting Legal Aid Newcomer award. As well as making a helpful contribution to the cost of staging the event, this is also a way for anyone who wishes to do so to make their love for legal aid lawyers official by becoming a Friend of LALY24. All donors are listed in the ceremony programme and get a shout-out from the stage on the night.
Description: Compere Symeon Brown and newcomer winner Christian Weaver
LALY23 compere, broadcaster Symeon Brown, on stage with Christian Weaver, barrister from Garden Court North Chambers and winner of the Legal Aid Newcomer award.
Legal aid clients are at the heart of everything the profession does, so it is only fitting that they are very much a presence at the awards – often literally. Doreen Lawrence is a former winner of the event’s top award (for Outstanding Achievement), and 2023 saw the family of Molly Russell, the teenager who took her own life after viewing harmful content online, honoured alongside the lawyers and support team who helped them achieve such an important and groundbreaking inquest verdict.
Speaking from the stage, Molly’s dad, Ian, praised the legal team’s ‘unflinching examination’ of ‘the colossal dark data stream of evidence’ that, the coroner ruled, had contributed to Molly’s suicide. ‘Every member of our legal team was clearly as motivated as we were to learn what could be learned from Molly’s death … The Russell family will be eternally grateful to you all and, because of your exceptional work, hopefully the world will become a safer place, and its young and vulnerable people will grow up to owe you all a debt of gratitude, too.’
Description: Ian Russell and Helena Kennedy KC with the Molly Russell inquest team
LALY23 presenter Helena Kennedy KC greets Ian Russell, whose daughter Molly took her own life after viewing harmful content online – the family’s legal team won the Outstanding Achievement award for their work on the groundbreaking inquest.
None of this would be possible without our sponsors, who see giving financial backing to these awards as a way of demonstrating solidarity with the profession. Their support means that we can continue to celebrate the life-changing work of those in the social justice sector. We literally could not do it without them.
If you’ve never made a nomination or attended a LALY ceremony, it would be worth reflecting on the experience of LAG’s operations officer, Tessa Lieven Wright. Reporting on last year’s event, Tessa described how she went from LALY sceptic (‘The idea of an “Oscars for legal aid lawyers” seemed strange’) to convert (‘I was completely wrong. Not only was it a fun, feel-good evening, it was also incredibly inspiring and poignant’).
We hope you will make nominations and join us on 5 July to celebrate with your peers and hear the winners announced.
LALY24 key information
LAY24 nominations close: 22 April 2024
For full details about the entry criteria and to make nominations, visit:
We are seeking nominations in 11 categories:
1. Legal Aid Newcomer
2. Legal Aid Support Staffer/Support Team
3. Disability Rights
4. Family Legal Aid including Children’s Rights
5. Criminal Defence
6. Legal Aid Barrister
7. Legal Aid Firm/Not-for-Profit Agency
8. Regional Legal Aid Firm/Not-for-Profit Agency
9. Housing Law
10. Social Welfare Law
11. Public Law
Plus, the LALY judges will be making an award for:
12. Outstanding Achievement
Follow us on X (formerly Twitter) for the latest #LALY24 news: @WeAreLAPG @LALYawards