High-profile civil litigation solicitor Des Collins, senior partner of Collins in Watford, was named Gazette Legal Personality of the Year at the Law Society’s Excellence Awards last night.

Collins (pictured with Law Society president Linda Lee) was given the Gazette’s inaugural award in recognition of his work winning a settlement for children and young people who suffered birth defects following Corby Borough Council’s negligent clean-up of the town’s former British Steel plant. Collins has led his firm’s representation in many high-profile cases, including acting for rail crash victims at the public inquiries following the Southall and Paddington disasters.

Also shortlisted for the award were Carol Storer, director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and a prominent advocate on behalf of legal aid lawyers; Sandie Okoro, global general counsel at Barings Asset Management who has used her position to drive innovation among private practice firms; family lawyer Christina Blacklaws, a respected commentator on family justice; and Bernard Shepherd, high-profile president of the West Midlands Association of Law Societies.

Many other outstanding solicitors were honoured at last night’s Excellence Awards, attended by almost 600 guests and presented by BBC broadcaster Mishal Husain. The private practice Solicitor of the Year award went to Nigel Priestley, child care solicitor and senior partner at Ridley & Hall in Huddersfield, who used his acceptance speech to speak out against legal aid cuts and praise the success of Huddersfield Law Society’s twinning project with Uganda.

Anna Gardner, Legal Director, MEMA Region at Hewlett-Packard, was named in-house solicitor of the year, while Lisa Morgan, specialist nursing care solicitor at Hugh James in Cardiff, was awarded Junior Lawyer of the Year.

Stuart Popham, senior partner at magic circle firm Clifford Chance, was given a lifetime achievement award by Law Society President Linda Lee.

See the Law Society website for the full list of winners.