The Law Society Gazette performed its usual service in picking out the solicitors who received awards in this year’s New Year’s Honours list. There were around a dozen, about half of whom were honoured for their public service as civil servants. 1,239 people received awards in all, which means that solicitors, including solicitor civil servants, represented fewer than 1%.

Jonathan Goldsmith

Jonathan Goldsmith

(Of course, also included in the honours for lawyers, or former lawyers, was the Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the oldest and most senior British order of chivalry, given to Tony Blair, a former barrister. At the time of writing, over a million people had signed the petition to have his award rescinded. This article is not about him.)

Congratulations to the dozen of our profession who were recognised. Solicitors deserve awards in various categories. We play a part in our local communities, supporting local businesses and families, and with a key role in our local economies. At the other end of the spectrum, City law firms are a major British success story, a net exporter and source of excellent jobs. And, finally, we play an important role in the administration of justice, upholding the rule of law.

It is true that one of our members was rewarded with an MBE this year under the first category of community support. Richard Port, an associate at George Green LLP in the Midlands, was recognised for his unstinting legal assistance to organisations and victims of domestic abuse in Derbyshire and the Black Country.

And it is also true that a City lawyer, Stephen Reese, a partner at Clifford Chance, was awarded a CBE for advising the government and Pfizer on their vaccine plans, which showed support for at least part of the work of the City.

But should there have been more? Some people, maybe many, believe that the honours system has become a joke. They say that honours are more or less bought (Conservative Party treasurers, for instance) or given to unsuitable people (Jimmy Saville, Philip Green). Others take issue with the names, some of which are connected to the contested past (the British Empire). But every country has a system of honours, and there are people who clearly deserve them.

Just after publication of the list, there was an article in The Times, arguing that the ‘bias against company bosses does the honours system no favours’ . It started by pointing out that there were more citations for services to hairdressing than to banking in the latest list – and ended by saying that, although there was much wrong with the honours system, if it is here to stay, then company heads need to receive more recognition.

The same could be said about lawyers. First, I believe that there should have been more awards for solicitors who are lynchpins of their community, like Richard Port, and who make the City a global success, like Stephen Reese. But what about lawyers in the third category, who support the rule of law?

That lawyers can be heroes fit for awards in this category comes into sharper focus in countries which face a breakdown in the rule of law. For instance, both the International Bar Association and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) gave an award this year to Belarusian lawyers. Maxim Znak featured in both organisations’ awards. He represented opposition leaders, and is currently serving a 10 year sentence on a range of charges, including conspiracy to seize power and threaten national security. His name should be celebrated in lights, alongside the other brave Belarusian lawyers recognised by one or other of the two awards: Liudmila Kazak, Lilya Vlasova, Dmitry Laevski and Leanid Sudalenko.

I listened to the speeches of the CCBE award recipients, and you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by their dedication to the profession. They have suffered terrible penalties for merely continuing to uphold those duties of the administration of justice which we take for granted.

We do not face the same circumstances here. But there are lawyers who are playing their honourable part.

I would not expect the government to reward those lawyers who are trying to hold it to account over the granting of contracts to businesses connected to it through the Conservative Party. But throughout the pandemic, for instance, there have been solicitors who risked their health, and potentially their lives, in police stations, prisons and courts. Other solicitors helped the dying with their last legal needs.

If you are an actor or a sports’ medal winner, you receive multiple recognitions, both within your chosen field and in the honours system. If you are a solicitor, no matter how worthy your contribution to the local community or society in general, you are mostly on your own.


Jonathan Goldsmith is Law Society Council member for EU and international matters and a former secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe. All views expressed are personal and are not made in his capacity as a  Law Society Council member, nor on behalf of the Law Society