LALY22 – 20 years of celebrating legal aid
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Louise Heath
Description: LALYs
After two years as a virtual awards ceremony due to the pandemic, the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards will be back to an in-person event. There is even more to celebrate than usual in 2022, as this is the 20th anniversary of these important awards. LALY organisers Fiona Bawdon and Chris Minnoch explain what's in store.
Who would have thought in 2003, when the first Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year ceremony took place, that 20 years later the LALYs would still be going strong, and have carved out a unique place in the legal aid calendar? The past 20 years have not been kind to the social justice sector. Legal aid has faced seismic, and almost exclusively negative, change. Successive governments have failed to recognise the important work of legal aid lawyers, slicing fees, freezing out clients by reducing the scope of the scheme, and failing to ensure that eligibility rules keep pace with financial reality. Against this backdrop, the LALYs have played an increasingly vital role in telling the truth about legal aid lawyers and how they serve their clients, and giving them the accolades they so richly deserve. One thing the government has been unable to chip away at is the resolute commitment of legal aid lawyers to providing access to justice, and our determination as LALY organisers to recognise and celebrate their work. In each of the 20 years since the first LALYs, the skill and dedication of legal aid lawyers has been powerfully reflected in the wealth of inspiring nominations submitted by colleagues, clients, other professionals, and, at times, competitors. We only wish government ministers and critics of legal aid could read these compelling accounts – which make the job of the LALY judges so difficult.
As the pandemic hit in 2020, it became clear that the LALY ceremony we had planned, involving over 500 guests gathering at a central London venue to cheer on the finalists, would have to be rethought. We knew lockdown was taking a huge physical, emotional and financial toll on the social justice sector, which was already under-resourced and overworked. Given this, it was unthinkable to Team LALY to pull the plug on the event altogether. We knew we had to try to match the resilience and resourcefulness of legal aid lawyers, by reinventing LALY20 as a virtual event, broadcast live, with winners joining the ceremony by live stream. We did the same thing all over again in 2021, as the pandemic continued to impose significant restrictions on face-to-face gatherings.
Nothing could ever replace the atmosphere, fellowship, and sheer excitement and delight of a traditional LALY ceremony. However, going virtual gave the friends and families of our finalists the chance to tune in and watch the ceremony unfolding live on screen. Some told us that their grandmother or sibling finally understood what drove them to dedicate their career to legal aid, when they heard about the life-changing impact of the finalists’ work. More than 7,000 people viewed the online ceremonies held in 2020 and 2021 – a truly remarkable response from the legal aid world.
Back with a bang!
With restrictions easing, we are delighted to be able to celebrate our 20th anniversary in traditional LALY style, with a face-to-face gathering of legal aid lawyers and their friends, families and colleagues. As well as lauding this year's finalists and winners, we also plan to ensure that the ceremony gives due credit to those who have graced the LALY stage in previous years, and continue to be the glue that holds together our creaking justice system.
Pay it forward
We also have a specific request of all our previous winners and finalists – to pay it forward. Just as your professional friends and colleagues took the time to show their respect and admiration for you and your work, please do the same by nominating an unsung peer or colleague at any level, who inspires you. For the first time this year, we have an award dedicated to legal aid support staff – the receptionists, billing and IT specialists, HR experts, secretaries and administrators who go the extra mile to make the work of lawyers and other fee-earners possible.
Everyone on Team LALY loves the awards and reveres the professionals they celebrate as much as we do. We know that with your support, LALY22 will be another night to remember and a fitting tribute to the unsung heroes of legal aid, just as the first-ever ceremony was back in 2003.
Send in your nominations by 25 April, do join us on 12 July, and look out in coming weeks for more news on how we plan to make the 20th LALYs a night to remember.
LALY22 key information
LALY22 nominations close: 25 April 2022
We are seeking nominations in 11 categories:
1) Legal Aid Newcomer
2) Family Legal Aid
3) Criminal Defence
4) Legal Aid Barrister
5) Legal Aid Firm/Not-for-Profit Agency
6) Social Welfare Law
7) Public Law
8) Regional Legal Aid Firm/Not-for-Profit Agency
9) Legal Aid Support Staffer – new for 2022
10) Disability Rights
11) Housing
Plus, the LALY judges will be making an award for:
12) Outstanding Achievement
Winners will be announced at a live, in-person ceremony in London on 12 July 2022. Tickets can be purchased from: www.lapg.co.uk/laly-tickets
Follow us on Twitter for latest #LALY22 news: @LALYawards @WeAreLAPG

About the author(s)

Description: Fiona Bawdon - author
Fiona Bawdon is a freelance legal affairs journalist and founder and co-organiser of the LALY awards.
Description: Chris Minnoch
Chris Minnoch is CEO at the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.