A solicitor who acts for families affected by the 1989 Hillsborough stadium tragedy was last night named Law Society Gazette Legal Personality of the Year at a black tie dinner and presentation in London.

Elkan Abrahamson, of Broudie Jackson Canter The Justice Partnership in Liverpool, was also highly commended in the private practice Solicitor of the Year category at the Law Society Excellence Awards 2013.

The Gazette award was conferred by the magazine’s senior editorial team.  Abrahamson has worked closely with the Hillsborough campaigners for nearly two decades to discover the truth about what happened on that day in 1989. He  provided free legal advice for Hillsborough mother the late Anne Williams and was with her at the High Court last December to see the original inquest verdicts of accidental death overturned.

Over 650 lawyers and their guests joined the President of the Law Society, Nicholas Fluck, and BBC Today Show host Mishal Husain last night’s ceremony at the Park Plaza Hotel. 
The awards recognised the most outstanding practitioners in their field and were open to individuals and teams across the entire legal sector.

Catherine Leech of  Pannone Solicitors was named private practice Solicitor of the Year . She was commended by the judges for displaying ‘outstanding legal ability, tenacity and empathy championing the rights of victims of severe injury and attaining landmark personal injury rulings securing positive and equitable results for the claimants’.

In what was acknowledged by Husain as a good night for women solicitors, child care expert Uma Mehta of the London Borough of Islington was named in-house Solicitor of the Year. She was recognised for her making a difference to the lives of vulnerable children.

Nicholas Fluck said: ‘This year’s winners have set new precedents in the legal profession and are some of the brightest minds and most innovative businesses in England and Wales- they are the Olympians of law. 
‘The Excellence Awards have attracted a record number of entries in 2013, and standards were incredibly high - evidence in itself that the legal sector, amid turbulent and challenging times, is ever resilient and evolving. 
‘The winners should be justly proud of the great work they have done which has led to this award. The Law Society is committed to recognising and celebrating excellence in the legal profession and we congratulate our winners on this huge achievement.’

A full list of winners and judges’ commendations follows.

Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion
Clifford Chance LLP
Rare and Articles programme
Many legal practices tpromote the importance of diversity and inclusion within their organisation, but few practices truly embed the principles or fully appreciate the real business benefits of recruiting and retaining talented lawyers from diverse backgrounds. Clifford Chance stands out from the crowd through its successful relationship with Rare and its Articles programme - which has seen the ethnic diversity of its trainee cohort almost treble over the last couple of years. Overall the judges were impressed with the firm’s ‘thoughtful, measured and focused’ approach and at how it has  applied the lessons from this initiative to its recruitment approach with other under-represented groups.

Highly Commended
Wragge & Co
‘Day in the life of a lawyer’ programme
Wragge and Co’s ‘Day in the life of a lawyer’ is a fantastic programme. It was launched in 2006 when there were very few firms working on addressing some of the deep-rooted inequalities affecting access to the legal profession. Wragge and Co has targeted a significantly high number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and is working proactively to broaden the students’ horizons by providing professional work placements, access to role models, mentoring and university sponsorships. The judges were impressed with Wragge and Co’s thoughtful approach and they way in which the firm has positively and incrementally built on the initiative over the years since its launch.

Excellence in Pro Bono
DLA Piper
The judges recognised the breadth, depth and coherence of DLA’s global pro bono programme. They were particularly impressed by the firm’s innovation and commitment to pro bono represented by establishing a not for profit organisation to deliver pro bono in developing and post conflict countries.
Working on hugely important issues worldwide, the firm’s investment is very impressive. Establishing its own not for profit to deliver pro bono signals a long term and substantial commitment to pro bono. The judges were unaware of other firms having taken a step of this kind.

Highly Commended 1
Fiona Bruce Solicitors LLP   
The judges recognised the longevity and consistency of Fiona Bruce’s pro bono efforts which have provided a vital service to the firm’s local community over many years.  
The judges wanted to commend a pro bono programme which, despite not being necessarily innovative, was vitally important to a deprived local community and represents the solid, consistent, unglamorous pro bono which is so important in terms of access to justice and so often left unrecognised.

Highly Commended 2
Jasvir Jutla & Co Solicitors
The judges commended the strategic approach to pro bono work adopted by Jasvir Jutla & Co which enables it to punch considerably above its weight for a firm of its size.
An impressive amount of high impact pro bono given the firm’s resources.

Legal Sector Alliance Award for Excellence in Environmental Responsibility   
ClientEarth’s actions and innovation are pushing boundaries and achieving significant outcomes. ClientEarth is using the law to affect positive action to combat climate change and to protect the global environment.

Highly Commended
Hodge Jones & Allen LLP
Hodge Jones & Allen takes a holistic approach to environmental management and has adopted a wide range of initiatives to engage key internal and external stakeholders. The programme has had a tangible positive impact as a result of proactive collaboration with the local community and as a result it represents an excellent model for other law firms to follow. 

Excellence in Client Service
Aequitas Legal
The judges were very impressed by the efforts the firm had made to embed customer service in every aspect of its business, with clear statements of values and the promise it was making to  clients.  They were particularly struck by the firm’s use of in-service questionnaires, eliciting customer feedback to check satisfaction levels as work developed, and taking immediate action to respond to any expressions of dissatisfaction.

Highly commended
DBS Law Limited
DBS almost won this category. Like Aequitas, it stood out because of the thoroughness and comprehensiveness of its client service initiatives: the call centre, home visits, online document signing, dedicated case handlers, training, remuneration, and especially the strong focus on metrics and client feedback.
Excellence in Marketing & Communications    
Keystone Law
“Join the Future” is an exceptionally successful national recruitment campaign by Keystone Law that has led to over 43 new partner level solicitors joining the firm since July 2012. This represents a 48% increase in head count in under a year, taking the firm’s total number of solicitors to 132.
Highly Commended
Eversheds LLP
The communications team at Eversheds has been integral to its collaboration with LawWithoutWalls (LWOW), an innovative part virtual, part in-person programme designed to engage future leaders of the legal profession to innovate, develop commercial skills and improve cross-border working practices, within the context of developing real commercial projects.

Lexcel Award for Excellence in Practice Management
Rowlinsons Solicitors
Rowlinsons Solicitors has used Lexcel to further a strong commitment to client care focusing on providing services that are relevant to the local community. The Lexcel framework has provided a platform for growth, streamlined processes, created a more efficient team and helped to offer better services to clients.

Rowlinsons has focused on the types of clients it provides services for and adapted its approach to better meet the needs of clients. This included extended opening hours and improved use of social media. The firm continues to grow and uses Lexcel as a way to ensure that risks are managed effectively. 
Highly Commended 1
Beeley & Co Solicitors
Beeley and Co Solicitors has held Lexcel accreditation since 2011 and has embedded Lexcel into the core of its practice. It has  used the standard to ensure consistency in approach as the firm continues to grow.

The firm has been trading for only four years and achieved Lexcel relatively quickly. The firm has a claim free PII record and credit this to implementing Lexcel effectively across the firm. It has used the standard to review and develop services it provides which has allowed it to venture into new areas of practice. The firm has also used Lexcel to work collaboratively with other accredited practices. 

Highly Commended 2
Brethertons LLP       
Lexcel accreditation has provided a fundamental framework for Brethertons to continue to grow and develop the firm and the staff within it. The firm has worked hard to change its culture and on being client focused and has been successful with its initiatives.

As previous winners of this award, the firm continues to show commitment to Lexcel and the principles that underpin the scheme. By focusing on motivating and engaging with staff, the firm has benefited from increased profit and reduced complaints.

Excellence in Business Development & Innovation
Bott & Co Solicitors
At a time when law firms are being forced to adapt to their changing environment for reasons beyond their control, Bott & Co grasped the opportunity to diversify and proved that a new business offering can supplement services affected by reform. 

Bott & Co developed a brilliant new service which protects consumers’ rights when having experienced delayed or cancelled flights operated by airlines. This innovative business is proof that the smartest firms will survive because of their willingness to adapt.

Highly Commended 1
Porter Dodson LLP   
Porter Dodson has proved that smaller business development budgets can still build strong international presence when specialising in a niche area of law that meets multijurisdictional demand. Porter Dodson’s success in the field of modern family legal issues proves the importance of having a clear and focused strategy.

Highly Commended 2
Emsleys Solicitors
Emsleys has brought an important service to market which helps accident victims get the compensation they deserve. At a time when standards of advice and service in the personal injury sector are compromised by a minority of underperforming firms, Emsleys’ second opinion service ensures accident victims receive full and proper compensation.

Excellence in Learning & Development
Norton Rose Fulbright   
The judges were particularly impressed by the implementation of a single, unified global learning and development strategy across all of the firm’s 7,500 staff in 54 locations across six continents. This has played a key role in ensuring that the firm’s culture, systems and processes were applied consistently during a period of significant expansion and has had a beneficial impact on employee loyalty, client satisfaction and the firm’s international reputation .

Highly Commended 1
Roberts Jackson Solicitors
The judges were impressed by the firm’s willingness to take on graduates with no previous experience of the legal services environment and commit substantial time and effort to developing knowledge and skills through an extensive programme of learning in the specialist field of disease litigation.

Highly Commended 2
Anderson Law LLP
The judges felt that the creation of an intensive learning programme for newly-qualified intellectual property lawyers was a significant achievement for a small specialist practice and was commendable for the intellectual rigor of the course, which was run in conjunction with UCL Faculty of Laws.

CQS Award for Excellence in Conveyancing Practice
Bright (South West) LLP
Bright (South West) LLP has used CQS to develop their services to ensure that the conveyancing process is as stress free for the client as possible. It has used the CQS as a basis for additional training for staff and to create internal processes demonstrating the firm’s commitment to the values of the scheme. 

The firm has created an ‘Exchange Ready Pack’ which has been developed in line with the CQS Protocol and has reduced the number of enquiries raised during the home buying process. It has used its accreditation to give it a competitive advantage and in marketing materials.

Highly commended 1
K J Commons Solicitors
KJ Commons Solicitors has used CQS to improve internal systems and the way in which it provides services to clients. Improved in-house training has meant that staff morale and client retention have improved.

Highly Commended 2
Stokes Partners LLP   
CQS and its values are part of the ethos of Stokes Partners. The firm has ensured that all systems and processes were created in line with the requirements of the scheme and provide a speedy service to clients. The firm has built its business based on its reputation and commitment to client care.           

Excellence in Exporting Legal Services 
International Lawyers for Africa
ILFA is an initiative of City law firms was formed to build capacity and develop business links across Africa. To date, it has 20 participating law firms, 4fourcorporate legal departments and 17 participating African jurisdictions. It is an innovative concept which has created a collaborative platform for providing English legal services and contributing to the development of the legal services market in those countries.

Highly commended   
Sherrards Solicitors LLP
Sherrards LLP has demonstrated an ambitious and strategic approach to international business development, developing a global alliance and engaging with a range of actors, from bar associations to governments, in order to promote the firm as well as English law.


The Law Society Gazette Legal Personality of the Year
Elkan Abrahamson, Broudie Jackson Canter The Justice Partnership
Elkan has worked closely and tirelessly with the Hillsborough campaigners for nearly two decades to discover the truth about what happened that terrible day in 1989.

He also provided free legal advice over many years for Hillsborough mother the late Anne Williams. He was with Anne at the High Court last December to see the original inquest verdicts of accidental death overturned.

Highly Commended
Jocelyn Cockburn, Hodge Jones & Allen LLP
Jocelyn Cockburn is a civil liberties specialist who has been described as a modern day ‘David’ who refuses to be intimidated by the ‘Goliath’ of the state. She has engaged upon some the highest-profile publicly funded cases of recent years, including the Snatch Land Rover case, which established that the European human rights convention applies to soldiers serving on foreign battlefields.

Legal Business Woman of the Year
Helen Molyneux, NewLaw Solicitors       
Helen has proved to be very creative, she saw an opportunity to take the business forward and she ‘seized’ the day. She has produced a different type of model and has capitalised on becoming an ABS. Helen is innovative and a strong businesswoman.

Generally the judges thought that Helen was excellent: she is a facilitator and they were impressed at her annual turnover and the responsibility she has for the 370 people who work for her.
Highly Commended
Anna Theodorides, AMV Law Ltd        
Anna has risen from humble beginnings and without being reliant on external funding has proved to be a prudent business woman.  She has developed a highly profitable business model by understanding the economics of how business works particularly within the legal sector which was very impressive for a new enterprise.
The judges were impressed with Anna’s turnover and that she reinvested in her business to help maintain profitability.  They commented on her as a diversity role model and of her encouragement to young females at the beginning of their career in the law.   

Solicitor Advocate of the Year 
Joy Merriam, McCormacks Law Ltd
Joy Merriam is a highly motivated, dedicated and experienced advocate. She cares deeply about those for whom she acts, and thinks laterally to find the best approach to every case, to support her clients.
The judges noted her highly detailed and well evidenced application: strongest application received in terms of the evidence received.

Highly Commended 1
Patrick Robinson, Burges Salmon LLP
Patrick Robinson works in a highly technical, specialist area – windfarm planning. He treads the challenging line between his clients and the wider community with skill and expertise. He is also committed to giving back to the advocacy arena by training and mentoring others.

Highly Commended 2
Razi Shah, Appleby Shaw
Razi Shah is a perfectionist in his chosen craft of advocacy. The breadth of his work is impressive, much of it highly sensitive, international in scope, high profile, and conducted in challenging forums.

Solicitor of the Year (In-house)
Uma Mehta, London Borough of Islington    
Uma Mehta, Chief Lawyer in the Community Services Team at the London Borough of Islington has made an outstanding contribution to Child Care Proceedings. Training judges, magistrates and legal advisers on the new 26 week limit for child care cases she worked beyond her brief producing effective guidance, direction and documentation that will reduce delay and make a real difference to the lives of the most vulnerable children.

Highly Commended 1
Pauline Curtis, Crown Prosecution Service    
Pauline Curtis, a Senior Crown Prosecutor founded the Aiming Higher Community Mentoring programme as a direct result of concern about the increasing number of young people entering the criminal justice system. Through mentoring the programme provides a climate for growth by raising aspirations, support for career development and positive life choices.

Pauline single-handedly created a mentoring programme designed to help youngsters who fall through the cracks and end up in the criminal justice system. Her important and positive work falls outside of her day job, showing real passion and dedication to improving the lives of young people. Pauline is an in-house lawyer who is using her skills and experience to benefit the wider community.

Highly Commended 2
Pieter de Waal, Olympic Delivery Authority
Pieter de Waal, Head of Legal at the Olympic Delivery Authority has shown passion and commitment over the course of the project. He has been at the heart of the action as the authority completed the new East Village, closed out £6bn of contracts and continues its important legacy work.

Pieter’s commitment to a project that has run for seven years is highlighted by his continued focus on the successful final phase of the authority’s work before it dissolves in 2014. His part in the successful delivery of the project cannot be overestimated. An example of an in-hosue lawyer at the top of his game.

Highly Commended 3
Kath Nicholson, London Borough of Lewisham
Kath Nicholson, Head of Law at the London Borough of Lewisham, spearheaded the council’s successful legal challenge to cuts at Lewisham hospital – a case with huge local and national significance.

Kath demonstrated exceptional leadership and legal expertise. Her successful judicial review of the Secretary of State’s first use of the legal regime known as the Unsustainable Provider Regime designed to deal with failing hospital trusts means that this case is of national significance. Her success has a hugely positive impact on the community she serves.

Solicitor of the Year (Private Practice)
Catherine Leech, Pannone Solicitors   
Catherine Leech has displayed outstanding legal ability, tenacity and empathy championing the rights of victims of severe injury and attaining landmark personal injury rulings securing positive and equitable results for the claimants. 

Catherine has also worked extensively with the Spinal Injury Association to address the need for specialist support to recent victims of spinal injury and their families. Working with the SIA, Catherine has developed a series of training days for healthcare professionals and outreach advisers working with those who have recently suffered spinal injury which has been rolled out nationwide.

Highly Commended 1
Elkan Abrahamson, Broudie Jackson Canter The Justice Partnership
Elkan Abrahamson has made a significant contribution in the area of civil rights Law.
He has worked over many years to secure justice for the victims of Hillsborough and their families, successfully challenging initial decisions and requesting increased scrutiny of investigations that led to the initial rulings.

He has also made significant innovations in the areas of prison law working to ensure the rights of prisoners and setting up the Institute of Prison Law to train solicitors and barristers working in prison law.

Highly Commended 2
Chris Fry, Unity Law Ltd
Chris Fry has undertaken exceptional legal work in the areas of disability discrimination and occupational illness and has represented claimants in a number of high profile cases including a group action again Arriva plc for discrimination against disabled travellers.  He has developed innovative campaigns and tirelessly lobbied to ensure that the rights of those with disabilities are protected and improved.   

Junior Lawyer of the Year
Kevin Timms, Garden House Solicitors
The level and scope of work undertaken by this junior lawyer, less than two years qualified, impressed all the judges in this category. He recognised and developed a niche area for his firm by establishing a new, exciting and innovative income stream. His story is one of progression and inspiration and in the judges’ opinion a very worthy winner.

Highly Commended 1
Baruch Baigel, Asserson Law Offices
The judges agreed that this was a remarkable nomination with outstanding references from some of the leading legal experts in their field. This junior lawyer’s referees speak of his excellent legal analytical and problem solving skills as well as the level of professional maturity he demonstrated far beyond his years or level of seniority. As one further commented, ‘a star in the making’.

Highly Commended 2
Coby Benson, Bott & Co Solicitors
This junior lawyer demonstrated a clear flair for innovation by identifying an opportunity for a new revenue stream in a relatively unexplored area of practice. Although it was a narrow area of specialisation he had the skills, drive and ability to develop it further and take it to a higher level.