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Legal leader wins award

A University of Wolverhampton law graduate is celebrating after clinching a top leadership award.

Sandra Wallace graduated in 1991 with a LLB Law degree from what was then Wolverhampton Polytechnic.

She is now Managing Partner of DLA Piper UK and recently won the Leadership Award at the Birmingham Law Society Awards. The award was sponsored by the University of Wolverhampton Law School.

Sandra, who qualified as a lawyer in 1994, said: “Winning anything always makes you reflect on what you have achieved and in my case how far I have come. I was so worried about going to University and if I would be able to make a legal career. Then I look back and think not only did I achieve that but I have been given so many opportunities at DLA Piper besides. 

“I am not keen on the limelight and I recognise that little happens without support around you. Nevertheless this award is special because it was colleagues at DLA Piper pushing me to go for it and they submitted the commentary in support of the nomination.  So it feels like people appreciate what I do, even if I think it's no big deal!”

She added: “The University of Wolverhampton (Polytechnic when I was there) was quite a revelation for me.  It was the first time I enjoyed my education. At college I was the odd one out being from the wrong part of town and generally it was not very diverse.  I didn’t attend the universities that I actually got accepted for because I felt I would be like a fish out of water.  Looking back that was probably because nowhere I visited had such a diverse population of students as Wolverhampton. 

“The course was challenging but the teaching was good and fostered independent learning. It was not stuffy but it was no easy ride either. I am one of six children and sitting at number 5 I was the first person to go to University in my family. As you can see with my career I am glad I did.”

Head of the University of Wolverhampton Law School, Sukhninder Panesar, said: “It was great to see Sandra win the Leadership Award and it was fitting that the Award was presented by the University of Wolverhampton.  Every year we see professionals who have graduated from the University of Wolverhampton win awards at the Birmingham Law Society Awards Ceremony and this is testament to the strengths of the Law School in producing highly qualified lawyers.”

The Birmingham Law Society Legal Awards have been showcasing the best of the region’s legal talent since the inaugural event in 2002.

Now in their 17th year, the Awards celebrate the success and achievement of both individuals and firms over the last 12 months.

For more information about studying Law, visit: www.wlv.ac.uk/law

largest ever survey on gender equality in legal profession

The largest international survey of women in the law has been released by the Law Society of England and Wales, shedding light on the road to gender equality in the legal profession.

“People working in law across the world have spoken out about the challenges the profession faces in achieving gender equality,” said Law Society vice president Christina Blacklaws.

“I am a passionate believer in equality. Where there is inequality, I will not flinch from tackling it. I know I’m not alone in this - justice, fairness and the rule of law are what drew most of us to the legal profession.

“Unconscious bias in the legal profession was the most commonly identified barrier to career progression for women, while flexible working was seen as a remedy by an overwhelming 91% of respondents to our survey.

“Interestingly while half of all respondents said they thought there had been progress on gender equality over the last five years there was a significant difference in perception by gender with 74% of men reporting progress in gender equality compared to only 48% of women.”

Key figures:

  • 7,781 people responded to the Law Society’s Women in the Law survey
    (5,758 women, 554 men and 1,469 unknown or other)
  • 74% of men and 48% of women reported progress on gender equality in the last 5 years
    (overall 50%)
  • Main barriers to career progression perceived as:
    - Unconscious bias (52%)
    However, only 11% said unconscious bias training is consistently carried out in their organisation
    - Unacceptable work/life balance demanded to reach senior levels (49%)
    - Traditional networks/routes to promotion are male orientated (46%)
    - Current resistance to flexible working practices (41%)
  • 91% of respondents said flexible working is critical to improving diversity
    - 52% work in an organisation where flexible working is in place
  • 60% are aware of gender pay gap in their place of work
    - Only 16% see visible steps taken to address gender pay gap

Christina Blacklaws concluded: “With our women in leadership programme, the Law Society is committed to giving women and men in law the tools to make positive changes towards gender equality.

“Every law firm, lawyer and client will benefit from greater equality in our places of work. I believe the justice system will also be stronger if the legal professions better reflects the values we uphold.”

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8 March 2018

Top honours for anthony collins solicitors at annual legal awards

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Anthony Collins Solicitors was the big winner at last night’s Birmingham Law Society Legal Awards, picking up four gongs.

The city centre firm was named Law Firm of the Year (16 partners or more), beating rivals Gateley Plc, Irwin Mitchell, Mills & Reeve, Shoosmiths and VWV (Veale Wasbrough Vizards).

Anthony Collins Solicitors also collected awards for Business Team of the Year and Private Client Team of the Year – two new categories for this year – while the firm’s Letitia Ait-Tales won Paralegal of the Year.

In the other categories, there were awards for Greg Fearn, Mills & Reeve - Trainee Solicitor of the Year; Jeremy Weston QC, St Ives Chambers - Barrister of the Year; Kashmir Uppal, Access Legal – Partner of the Year; Kid Harwood, Wildings Solicitors – BLS Innovation Award; Rosie Banks, Irwin Mitchell – BLS Pro Bono Award; Sandra Wallace, DLA Piper UK – BLS Leadership Award; JM Wilson Solicitors – Law Firm of the Year (sole practitioner up to four partners); and Sydney Mitchell – Law Firm of the Year (5 – 15 partners).

The Birmingham Law Society Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Mary Kaye, partner at Shakespeare Martineau and past president of BLS.

Presenting the award on behalf of the Society, president Andrew Beedham, said: “I couldn’t think of a more worthy recipient of this accolade than Mary. With a career spanning more than 40 years, she is a true champion of the city’s legal sector and an inspiration to the many who know her.”

Commenting on the category winners, Andrew added: “Many congratulations to Anthony Collins Solicitors, who were the runaway winners on the night. The judges were particularly impressed with the firm’s strong commitment to its staff and its approach to attracting and developing those who want to make a difference in society.

“In what was a tough year for the judges, there were some really stand-out candidates and both the winners and finalists should be proud of their achievements.”

Birmingham Law Society is celebrating its bicentenary in 2018. This year’s Legal Awards, which were attended by more than 550 people, were just one of a number of planned special events being held throughout the year to celebrate the Society’s 200th anniversary.

Sponsors of the Legal Awards included The University of Law, BPP University Law School, Birmingham City School of Law, Ortus Group, Midshire, The Law Society, University of Wolverhampton, Gallagher, Index Property Information, Redbourne for Lawyers, Landmark Information, St Philips Chambers, TitleSolv and Advantage.

Complete list of Winners on our website.

 

Address by Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lord Justice of Appeal on Birmingham Law Society's 200th Anniversary

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 Address given at the Bicentenary Cathedral Service on 11 January 2018, Birmingham Cathedral

It is a true honour to have been invited to give a short address on this occasion to celebrate, almost to the very day, the founding, 200 years ago, of the Birmingham Law Society.

200 years seems or feels to be a long time ago; but, is it? Certainly much has happened in that time, and the Birmingham that existed three years after the Battle of Waterloo and two years before the death of King George III, is a world and more away from the great city that now thrives in this place. But is it SO long ago?

My connection with the Birmingham Law Society goes back some 45 years to the time when, as a first year law student at Durham I used to come into the Law Society Library in Temple Street during the holidays to catch up on all the work that I had somehow missed during the term time. Under the avuncular and kindly supervision of Mr Lahiri, I spent many days there and I can still picture, and even recall the musty smell of, the old place. During the intervening 45 years I have spent much of my professional life in or connected with the Midlands.

I suspect that I am not alone amongst those of us here this afternoon who can count up 40 or 50 years of ‘Law in Birmingham’. Half a century! Looked at on that basis, 200 years does not seem such a long time. Those who were ending their careers when we were starting could no doubt recall back to 1918, and the people they recalled will in turn have known the previous generation. Thus, although none of us is, of course, so old as to recall the first President, Mr Thomas Lee and the first Secretary Mr Clement Ingleby, we can, I think, feel some true connection with them, especially this afternoon, and to have some good idea of what they were ABOUT all those years ago.

But what were they ABOUT? What are we, as lawyers today, ABOUT? Why is it at all important to celebrate 200 years of continuous service by lawyers to society in general and, in particular, to this great City of Birmingham?

Some 4 or 5 years ago, I had the privilege of being a member of the Court assigned to sit on the appeal of the various groups and individuals who, as ‘Occupy London’, had camped outside St Pauls Cathedral for several months. As a judge, it is not often that you get to converse and interact directly with a group of anarchists! It was, for me and, I think my two colleagues, Lord Neuberger and Sir Stanley Burnton, a most interesting and very largely positive experience.

We read a good deal about how the protest was being conducted on a day to day basis. Through all the detail, one thing stood out and struck me, at least initially, as astonishing. Almost from ‘hour one’ on ‘day one’, and throughout the occupation, this disparate group of anarchists had agreed to organise their lives in accordance with a set of very strict rules. Rules about territorial space; rules about waste and sewage disposal; a strict curfew on noise after 10pm; firm rules about who was, and who was not, to be allowed to take up residence in this very limited space; and so on. They established their own police force, called, I think, ‘Prefects’, whose job it was to ensure that these rules were adhered to. Breach of the rules might lead to expulsion from the site.

Of course, the more I have thought about this initially astonishing revelation, that a group of anarchists would devise and firmly implement such rules, the less astonishing it has seemed. In order to live and to co-exist with our fellow man in any form of society, we need to have rules. We need to know ‘where we are’ and ‘where we stand’. We need to have Laws.

That this is so is evident throughout the known history of man. Last night I watched a play about Cicero performed by the RSC in Stratford, where, before the naked power of Caesar broke the mould, adherence to the law and the importance of the Rule of Law were at a premium. Within a few decades of Cicero’s time, the Apostle Paul is recorded on more than one occasion in the Acts of the Apostles as relying upon Roman Law, and his status as a Roman citizen, to escape trial before the Jewish authorities. Some 500 years earlier, the writer of Psalm 119 was, as we have just heard, extolling the virtues of The Law.

In our own time, the premium that is put by our society upon strict adherence to rules, protocols and the Law is, I would suggest, at an all-time high. In the ever more sophisticated and complicated world of the 21st century, it is all the more important for individuals, organisations and companies to know where they stand; what they can do and how they can do it or what they cannot do. People have a real and significant interest in the Law and how it affects them and their ability to conduct their lives, whether that be claiming benefit simply to exist, or arranging multi-million pound deals in the most efficacious way, or moving abroad with their child, or losing their employment, or erecting an extension to their house: I could, as you know, go on and on and on!

In a different context, the importance to people of rules, and adherence to those rules, is amply demonstrated in the world of Sport. Only this week, we have seen the introduction of a Video Assistant Referee system to professional football, with the aim of evaluating whether any controversial move of the ball during a game either is, or is not, within the rules. It is important to people to have the rules and for them to be followed.

Domestically, I suspect almost everyone here this afternoon will, during the course of the last three weeks, have either witnessed or joined in some board game or other around the family Christmas tree. Once again, the rules are always important and, unless they are adhered to, the game ceases to be enjoyable.

So far, I doubt that very many people in the community at large would disagree with anything that I have said. They would, I think, recognise the importance of having, knowing and using a set of rules by which life is to be lived in any human society. In so recognising, they would be acknowledging the importance of law and the crucial role of the Rule of Law in any society; in our society.

I suspect, however, that my last sentence, were it to stand alone, and without the chatty preamble, would not register with or be taken up by the public in general as something that they valued or were particularly interested in.

There is precious little newsworthiness in a headline such as ‘Law is important’ or ‘The Rule of Law triumphs again’ they are neither sexy nor interesting. There is certainly little press copy to be made under a banner reading ‘Lawyers are Good News!’, let alone … sexy!

Despite, as I hope my few anecdotes have demonstrated, the Law, and therefore lawyers, being essential for our, or any, civilised co-existence with each other, the profession and the Law itself seem to have a very negative public profile. Doctors, nurses, teachers, scientists, engineers, chefs and even journalists, seem to enjoy an altogether more positive approval rating. Lawyers are seen, at best, as ‘a necessary evil’; whereas, in my view, we are very much a ‘necessary good’.

So much may just be our lot. We are not going to change public perception; although I do think that we could, and should, do more to get the basic message across about the importance of Law, and of the Rule of Law, in our society. I say ‘should’ do more because there have been signs that, rather than just being ignored, the importance of the Law and the Rule of Law may be wholly misunderstood in some influential quarters, with the risk that its place in society and the constitution becomes dangerously eroded. The prime example that I have in mind occurred in November 2016 following the High Court ruling on Mrs Miller’s Brexit challenge: ‘The Judges versus The People’ ran the banner in the Daily Telegraph; ‘Enemies of The People’ was the headline in the Daily Mail.

The personal attacks on the individual judges that these and other stories contained were as regrettable as they were unwelcome, but the bigger point, the much bigger point, is that behind these headlines lies a fundamental misconception as to the role of judges and the importance of The Rule of Law which, for it to have value, requires the judges to determine cases that are brought to the court in accordance with ‘the laws and usages of this Realm’ (to quote the judicial oath) and not on any other basis. I could say more, but I am sure that the point is well understood by those who are gathered here this evening.

Before I conclude, I would like to return to a theme that I warmed up in the earlier stages of my address, namely the very real connection that we have with all those who have gone before us in these past 200 years and, for that matter, and it is for me of great importance, all those who are to come, whether they are just starting out in the law or will do so during the next 200 years.

Another anecdote may suffice to make the point. Last October I had the pleasure of processing down the Nave of Worcester Cathedral in full pomp, wearing, as I am wearing today, the big time Bling that adorns Her Majesty’s Lords Justices of Appeal. On Christmas Eve I made the same journey down the same aisle, but on this occasion I was simply following my wife and our donkey for the annual Nativity Service; my role being to carry the pooper-scooper in case of ‘accidents’ – I doubt that anyone even noticed me. Same man, same walk, down the same aisle. The point is that the ceremony and prestige, if that is what it is, that goes with all this [robes], is not about me, it is not about the individual man or woman, it is about the office and the system.

The point is firmly made to me every time I put on these splendid robes. The label between my shoulder blades does not display my name, but simply the words ‘Number 16’. I don’t know how many former Lords or Lady Justices have worn these very robes, probably a good number, but, like a baton in a relay race they have been passed from hand to hand, down the years from individuals who have each held the office for a time.

The same point applies to each of us who practices law. We are the custodians of the role that we undertake, whether it be offering advice to the most humble or the most high, locally or internationally, in a large firm or as individual practitioners. We meet today, and work as lawyers, at this particular moment in the continuum of time. Whilst it is easy to get involved in the minutiae of individual cases or of our practice as a whole, we should not lose sight of the big picture, the timeless picture and our role within it.

Those who founded the Birmingham Law Society had the foresight to look above their own desks and to see the need for the lawyers of this City to be served by an organisation that provided a ‘space’ in which all could come together for the greater common good of the profession and its clients.

Whilst we remember and give thanks for all that has gone before, we should not forget that our role in the profession is a baton that we hold and, although it is infinitely more difficult to find time and afford priority to doing so, a premium should still attach to lawyers meeting together, outside the tribal boundaries of their firms, to look at the bigger picture and the part that they might each play within it.

This leads me back to the main theme of this address.

There is a need, I believe, for lawyers and for society in general to celebrate The Law and the practice of Law, rather than, as is so often the case, for it to be denigrated or marginalised. This need to celebrate is not, in my view, an optional, formulaic or self-serving thing. The issues involved are, as I have sought to explain, fundamental to the effective and fair functioning of any civilised society and are, therefore, of a high order of importance.

In short, without The Law we would have anarchy and, as even the anarchists camping outside St Pauls might say: ‘we don’t want that, do we!’

 

It's 200 years since Birmingham Law Society was established

Andrew Beedham, President of BLS, shares the organisation’s plans for its bicentenary and examines the legacy of one of the UK’s oldest law societies.

When Birmingham Law Society (BLS) was established in 1818 ‘mad’ King George was on the throne, a stage coach journey from Birmingham to London took in excess of 15 hours and the death penalty had just been lifted for shoplifting (though transportation was still an option!).

Founded by 19 original members, BLS now boasts more than 4,000, drawn from law firms and barristers’ chambers across the West Midlands.

The bicentenary is not only an opportunity to celebrate this landmark anniversary, but also to reflect on the achievements, contribution and legacy of the largest legal community outside London.

We kick-started our celebrations in early January with a special service at St Philip’s Cathedral.  The Deputy Lord Lieutenant and 12 fully robed High Court judges paraded Colmore Row - which runs through the heart of the city’s business district - with the procession ending at the Cathedral. The service included a performance by the profession’s own choir, Advocati, and an address by the Right Honourable Sir Andrew McFarlane. It was followed by a cocktail party, attended by local dignitaries, at the Council House.
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We will continue to mark the anniversary throughout the year at events including a special Legal Awards and a gala President’s Dinner.

But perhaps most significant is our commissioning of a book to chart the history of the Society, the rise of the profession and the influence that lawyers have had on the business and civic life of the city of Birmingham.

The book has been written and edited by Dr Sally Hoban and Dr Malcolm Dick from the School of History and Cultures at The University of Birmingham. 

The publication will take its place alongside BLS’s existing centennial history published in 1918, and the 150th anniversary publication in 1968.

Its contents are drawn from BLS’s extensive archive (chiefly its Minute Books), now housed in the Library of Birmingham. These are supplemented by other BLS records, newspaper cuttings and journals, and interviews with past and present members, giving a unique and fresh perspective on our history. Both Sally and Malcolm confirm that their research and findings are of national significance, shedding new light on the history of law and law societies in the provinces in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The hardback book will be around 20,000 words long and will be accompanied by photographs and other images, some of which have never been published before. Its major themes will include the foundation and development of BLS and its influential law library; how technology has changed the legal profession; diversity; the social life of BLS; the changing face of legal education; the service of BLS members in the First and Second World Wars; BLS and the arts and our impact on policy, legislation and life in the city of Birmingham.

I have been privileged to see early drafts of the book and it makes fascinating reading. We think we are living in a time of rapid technological change, so imagine debating - as the minutes from an 1883 BLS committee record - whether telephones would be useful to the profession.

The first telephone was installed in the County Court in December of that year. The ‘instrument’ had its own room and a dedicated clerk paid £20 per annum to mind it. What a world away from today’s exponentially developing communications technology!

Think too of how diverse the legal profession now is. Yet it was not until 1923 – more than a century after we were founded – that BLS enrolled its first female member.

The book is an absorbing account of BLS’s journey over the last two centuries, and the influence lawyers and the legal professional had as Birmingham grew to become a great industrial city, reinventing itself as the professional services and cultural hub it is now.

Which brings me on to BLS today, and our efforts to remain relevant to our members and, indeed, the wider community.

The BLS member base is a broad church. We were the first regional law society to open up our membership to barristers, for example. Bringing together solicitors, barristers, law students, paralegals and legal executives outside the tribal boundaries of their firms or chambers has been resoundingly successful and allows us to act as the ‘voice’ of the legal community.

To that end, we have 16 committees that not only allow our lawyers to share best practice but to work on consultation papers, ensuring we have a say in emerging legislation. We have submitted more than 100 consultation papers in the last five years. Brexit will have a huge impact on our laws and regulation so this work will continue to be a vital part of our role.

Working with the Law Society we regularly involve senior leaders from local firms so we can share best practice on a wide range of issues, including diversity, the use of artificial intelligence, GDPR and talent retention.

Raising the profile of the legal community, locally, nationally and internationally, is important to us. Through our media relations activity, our own publication, ‘Bulletin’ and web site, we communicate and share the views of our members, from the smallest sole practitioner to the largest international firm. As the Midlands Engine becomes a powerful force for growth in the region we want to ensure we have a seat at the top table so we can contribute our expertise and share in the benefits.

As part of our mission to help educate our members we have delivered more than 260 courses in the last five years, with more than 5270 members taking part.

Our social calendar is just as busy, ensuring our members have the opportunity to network with peers not just in their own industry but with others working in the city and the wider region. We are also particularly proud to have raised more than £100,000 for local charities in the last five years.

In the last decade in particular we have seen massive changes in our profession. Throughout these challenging times BLS has striven to provide a service and voice for its members. As many of our members have, we too have had to reinvent ourselves to ensure we remain relevant. That we have been around for 200 years says a lot. Here’s to the next 200!