Scots legal sector still strong and vibrant

Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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Record number of quality entries to legal awards, says David Lee

IT was judgment day for firms entering the Scottish Legal Awards last week – with a record-breaking number competing for the big prizes to recognise excellent performance over the last year.

The 2014 Scott + Co Scottish Legal Awards saw a 10 per cent increase in the number of submissions in the 11th year of the programme.

The judging panel needed a full day to debate the merits of the 74 entries submitted by 36 firms, from small specialists such as Eastons Private Client Solicitors, Caritas Legal Limited and Watermans to some of Scotland’s largest firms, including Shepherd+Wedderburn, Dundas & Wilson and Harper Macleod.

There was very healthy competition in a number of categories, with the Litigation Team of the Year especially popular – followed closely by Rising Star, Specialist Lawyer, Residential Property Team of the Year and the Community Contribution Award.

Record number of entries

The judges included experts from business, law, the media, public life and politics – including the chair Margo MacDonald MSP.

Vice-chair Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “It was great to see so many different firms, from across the Scottish market, entering the awards this year – and to see a record number of entries.

“It was also good to see so many high-quality entries, offering ample evidence that the legal sector in Scotland remains strong and vibrant. Many firms have coped very well with the slings and arrows of both recession and legal services reform and the judges were delighted to be able to reward those who have done especially well in challenging times.

“The judging process was as rigorous and fair as ever and we were delighted that our chair Margo MacDonald was able to play a part.”

The judging panel also includes Jane McLeod, director of LawWorks Scotland, Sir Andrew Cubie, Anne Houston, chief executive of Children 1st, and Joy McLaughlin, a partner in lead sponsor Scott + Co.

There was a strict marking system for assessing submissions, with a percentage available for each of the criteria set out on the entry forms. Each of the categories was “championed” by one of the 12-strong panel who described each of the entries, and highlighted their strengths and weaknesses. The discussion was then opened up to the full panel.

There was a strong focus on relevance and ensuring that the entries had stuck to the guidelines and demonstrated clear evidence of excellence in 2013, not work largely completed in other years.

New awards for pro bono work and community contribution were introduced to reflect important and growing areas of Scottish legal activity.

In some instances, a clear leader emerged during discussion – but in most of the 20 categories, the decision went to a secret ballot. Two categories do not have open nominations – the Lifetime Achievement Award and Managing Partner/Chairman of the Year, which went last year to Bruce Ritchie, long-serving director of professional practice at the Law Society of Scotland and Philip Rodney, chairman of Burness Paull.

Although the winners are known, they will remain a strictly-guarded secret until the awards ceremony and dinner on 20 March, 2014, at the Assembly Rooms on George Street in Edinburgh.

The awards are operated in aid of Children 1st, and the event has raised over £50,000 for the charity since the partnership began.

The full list of categories is: Employment Team of the Year; Energy Team of the Year, sponsored by Wolffe; Community Contribution Award; Family Law Team of the Year; Innovation Award, sponsored by Millar & Bryce; Litigation Team of the Year; Paralegal of the Year; Private Client Team of the Year, sponsored by Hotel Missoni; Pro Bono Award; Residential Property Team of the Year; Rising Star of the Year, sponsored by The Law Society of Scotland; Specialist Lawyer of the Year; Support Team of the Year; Trainee Employer of the Year, sponsored by Barr Printers; In House Legal Team of the year; Lifetime Achievement sponsored by The Scotsman; Chairman/Managing Partner of the Year, sponsored by Bank of Scotland; Firm of the Year sponsored by DX.