Our President

Our President


Written By: Philip Turton
Edition: May 2021

Dear Colleagues,

Two years ago, my immediate predecessor as President of Nottinghamshire Law Society, Jason Waghorne, to whom, incidentally, I and the Society owe a great debt of thanks, spoke at his inauguration of the inclusive nature of the Society and its important role in bringing its members together.  He identified the significant part played by such an organisation in uniting its professional members, young and old, male and female, culturally diverse but sharing qualities that unite them.  Jason, of course, did not foresee what was to come, none of us did, but the pandemic, in many ways, has exposed the force of his words and the important role this Society plays for its members and for the wider legal profession in Nottinghamshire. 

It has, on any basis, been an unusual year, which has tested many organisations similar to our own.  Some have struggled; some have gone to ground; some, indeed, may not survive. Many of us are looking forward with optimistic eyes to see what happens as we emerge from this difficult period of our history, but some are more fearful – wondering to what they may return.  Even for an active Society like ours, the times have been testing and the future remains uncertain. 

The pandemic has produced some curious outcomes.  One of those is that I stand here as your outgoing President, reviewing the Society’s progress during my year of office, as is our custom, and shortly, I will speak to you as your incoming President, setting out the Society’s hopes and aspirations for the forthcoming year.  This is not the first time a President has remained in office for a second year, but it is an unusual occurrence, generally confined to world wars.  I am grateful to the members of the Law Society Council, dedicated and loyal to this Society and providing steadfast but often unsung service to their community of fellow professionals, for inviting me to remain in post for a further year, an act not of desperation (at least that is what they have told me to my face), but of generosity.  It is right to single out Laura Pinkney, a visionary President of this Society in 2018, and Janine Smith, our equally visionary Vice President, for taking the initiative with our Council when it became clear, following our return to lockdown in December, that the Society was not going to be able to hold a single social event with a physical presence during this presidential year.  That the decision of Council was unanimous is emblematic of the kindness of my fellow professionals and the strength of our professional bond in Nottinghamshire.  I can only express my thanks and admiration to those who took the decision and say that I will do my best to repay their faith. 

There have, thus, been casualties, during my time in office.  We were not able to hold our Annual Dinner in 2020 and were obliged to delay our AGM.  The Dinner has been lost again in 2021 and, for this AGM, as last, we are again online albeit we have resumed our usual timetabling.  Physical contact has been missing from our activities, as it has been for so many people in Britain and around the world.  We have not been able to engage in the exciting international programme that we enjoy with our friends in Karlsruhe and Ghent, although we remain in close contact with both of those Law Societies, interested and concerned for the well-being of our colleagues in Europe and with a view to resuming our events together once it again becomes safe to do so.  When the time comes, Ghent Law Society have made clear that they will open the festivities and we will follow by hosting a year later.  I look forward again to drinking trappist beer in Belgium with Kathryn Meir and Daniel Harley, co-chairs of our International Committee, or eating asparagus in Germany with Billy Shaw, although in Billy’s case I expect I will again struggle to match his prodigious appetite for that delicious vegetable.  If these are the worst blows imposed upon us I can confidently say we will recover soon from them.

It would be wrong though to dwell on difficulties in a year which has demonstrated so much of what is good about Nottinghamshire people and particularly of our legal profession.  Perhaps it has been a trying time – it has certainly been the most unusual year in my professional memory - but what has been striking, in fact, is what the Law Society has DONE in this year, rather than what we have not been able to do.  We have been helped in that, of course, by the sheer energy of our Administrator, Michelle Taylor, instrumental as she has been in seeing that the Society continued to provide the services to its members that they rightfully expect, lockdown or no lockdown.  “Resilience” and “energy” are the words that spring to my mind in thinking about Michelle – who, it should be said, was due to remarry in Spring of last year, and has had, now to postpone the ceremony on three occasions.  That Ray, her future husband, understands precisely the value of what has fallen our (and his) way is apparent from the fact that he is not for one moment daunted by what must have been disappointing and distressing delay in starting upon married life together.  Either that, or Michelle has explained, in clear terms, what will befall him if he should waver.  Incidentally, we owe a further debt of thanks to Ray, not only for keeping Michelle on the straight and narrow, but also for the invaluable assistance he provided to the Society when we took the bold decision to move from our office premises on Friar Lane to new accommodation at 11 Clarendon Street.  We are now in our new suite, established there and looking to the future, and, now she is back there, Michelle is always happy to welcome Society members there with a cup of coffee or tea.

I am also pleased to observe that, in the course of this year, we have held all of our competitions for young lawyers, hosting the President’s Cup in December, restarting the Kevin De Silva Essay Prize in February and working closely with our colleagues in the Nottingham Junior Lawyers Division to see that the Hammond Cup took place, in April, the final taking place only last week.  I extend my congratulations to all entrants for those competitions – the standard of our young lawyers on display has been exemplary – and particularly to Ka Man Shing, victorious in the President’s Cup; to Bianca Brasoveanu, who carried off the Kevin De Silva Prize; and to Samantha Sargeant, who emerged from a strong field to take home the Hammond Cup.  I am pleased that all our winners have been able to join us this evening.  These competitions take time and trouble to convene and organise.  I thus extend the Society’s grateful thanks to all those who contributed to their organisation, but particularly to Helen Fanning and Richard Hyde, who organised the President’s Cup, to our judges for the Kevin Da Silva Prize, Naomi De Silva, Stephen Kirby and Judges Coe QC and Godsmark QC; and finally to Sarah Murray, who organised the Hammond Cup with her colleagues in the Junior Lawyers Division and the judges of the final, John Lymbury, Mike Auty QC and Patrick Limb QC.  Like so many others, all these are members of this Society who give their time freely for the benefit of their professional colleagues.  This is emblematic of one of the Society’s strengths, its great fellowship, which has continued unabated year on year, through fair weather and through foul.  I note in particular the long contribution of John Lymbury, himself, once a President of this Society, whose initiative, along with Michael Hammond, led to the inauguration of the Hammond Cup in 1968.  John has sat on the judging panel ever since, announcing his final retirement only this year.  That kind of contribution to this Society and its members is far from unique and it is pleasing to welcome so many long serving members, a number of them former Presidents, online tonight.

We have also continued our training programme.  For those who may not have consulted their emails, the Spring Webinar Series was launched this morning, including the Family Law Series, an update on commercial tenancies and, separately, possession cases, in the post Covid world.  We have, in fact, maintained our training programme pretty much intact, but now delivered online, a step which also influenced our move to smaller premises and which provides a marker for the role technology will continue to play into the future.  We have even hosted seminars providing advice and expertise in lawyerly use of online video platforms such as Zoom, alongside other diverse topics, going well beyond the law itself and extending into realms such as mindfulness and exercise.  So many of these seminars are delivered by local practitioners, experts in their particular areas, without charge, for the benefit of fellow members.  If you want to know, for instance, about potential breaches of duty arising from Covid, about best practice for witness statements in commercial cases, about traps for the unwary in land registration, excellence in criminal advocacy or child protection, we have the expertise and we have delivered – all of these are recent subjects of NLS online seminars.  You can even learn the One Legged Pigeon King, which is not a technical term from the Technology and Construction Court, but a yoga pose, covered in our excellent online Yoga for Lawyers classes – if you haven’t tried that seminar, incidentally, I certainly recommend it.

This aspect of our educational provision is overseen by our Education Committee, chaired by Helen Fanning, which is but one of our active sub-Committees (there are 10 of those, incidentally, for those who may not know).  In November and December, Helen’s Committee introduced our first Mentoring Programme, which saw young lawyers signed up to be paired with a senior local lawyer, relevant to their area of practice.  This is an exciting venture, new to Nottinghamshire Law Society but already showing signs of success in establishing mentor relationships which may last for lifetimes.  There is much that senior practitioners can offer those entering the profession for the first time and the Society is particularly well placed to provide it. 

For those firms who take out a block membership with the Society, as most do, and which thus provides confers membership of the Society upon all their firm’s employees, such a step provides access to all Society activities, including this advantageous programme, available to their trainees and providing an independent source of advice and wise counsel away from the pressures of their own firm.  Many have found this a particularly valuable aspect of the programme, which we will expand again in the second half of 2021. 

We were able to hold our Annual Awards too, which have been maintained despite the deferment of the Annual Dinner at which they were customarily presented.  In 2020 they took place in December instead and nominations have just opened this year in our usual categories, with the addition of a new one – Lockdown Lawyer of the Year.  Please consider those you know who might be deserving of a nomination in any category, which include Solicitor of the Year, Barrister of the Year, Young Lawyer of the Year and Practice Manager of the Year, as well as Contribution to the Community and Lifetime Achievement Awards.  It is sometimes the case that those who are truly deserving get overlooked for absence of a nomination.  Don’t let that be the case in your firm or Chambers?

Helen’s Education & Training Committee is but one of the sub-committees that are currently active within the Law Society’s umbrella, as I have said.  Whilst some of these have have found this year a quiet time, some certainly have not.  Our Equality & Diversity Committee, chaired by Lauren Crow and Lee Cowlishaw, continues its active work, which enables me to repeat what I said when I first became President – that there is a place for everyone in this Society and everyone is equally welcome, provided only that they are a lawyer practising in Nottinghamshire.  The promotion of equality and diversity, as we have discovered, does not always mean shouting from rooftops.  In our day to day lives, I would suggest, it often means something more rooted and unconfrontational – the unconditional acceptance of professional colleagues, without division between us, and the promotion of equal opportunity for all, wherever they may be within our profession.  It is much more often by quiet means, I would suggest, that real advancement here is achieved and I would like to pay tribute to Lauren and Lee, whose wisdom, judgment and leadership in this area has been exemplary.

The lockdown has particularly galvanised our practice committees – the Criminal Committee, chaired by Ian Boddy, and the Civil Court Users Committee, chaired by Tom Herbert and Julie Walker.  These committees have provided an essential link with the local courts and judges, enabling a dialogue to be maintained during the pandemic and ensuring that the Society could assist in keeping the business of the courts moving despite the dramatic and new impositions of lockdown.  One sterling example is provided by the Possession sub-group, chaired by Martin Lee from Mansfield, which has gathered together practitioners from every housing sphere and has disseminated information as to how possession cases were to be handled locally, firstly during a period when such cases were stayed altogether, and, in due course, as the backlog of cases had to be processed, by finding ways of managing those cases which had to come before a judge and determining how justice, in a difficult area, both socially and legally, could be maintained.  These are not, I venture, small matters.  The maintenance of our system of criminal and civil justice at a time of national crisis is of the utmost importance.  The Society has worked closely with the judiciary and other stakeholders to achieve this and has actively communicated with its members to ensure continuity and best practice in adopting new procedural requirements.  The thanks not only of the Society, but of the profession at large, are due to those who have worked on these committees, keeping our system of justice afloat - it is not an over-statement to say that – during this year.

Another important role played by the Society is the maintenance of contact with the national Law Society in Chancery Lane.  This is of particular benefit to those solicitors who may legitimately be too busy to maintain contact themselves or who may otherwise feel remote from their dealings – we bring the national Society to you.  In a year which has brought change to the relationships between the national Law Society and its regional counter-parts, it is a pleasure to welcome Lubna Shuja, the current Vice President of the Law Society to our meeting to talk to us about the way in which local Law Societies will interact with the national body in the future.  There has been some restructuring here, with the loss in November of the relationship managers, who provided the first port of call for local Societies such as ourselves, and the restructuring of constituencies in a way which merged Nottinghamshire with Derbyshire, with the loss of single member representation for the two counties.  We have, as you would expect, responded.  The Law Society’s programme for engagement with local Law Societies looks inspiring and we have already been in contact with our friends in Derbyshire to talk about how we may best proceed to serve the solicitors of both counties in future.  Shama Gupta, our Council Representative, another person who quietly and selflessly works hard for the good of her professional colleagues, has been an active and engaged Law Society Council member and it may be that, in due course and should she wish to, she continues in this capacity, representing both our counties.

It would not be surprising if I were to end by observing that our social events have suffered during the pandemic, relying, as they do, on the presence and human interaction of friends, colleagues and guests.  Of course, we have not, quite, followed the programme we might have expected.  Like many, it took us a little time to adjust – buoyed as we all initially were, by the belief that the lockdown might not last for long.  But in the autumn, when the writing was more clearly on the wall, we found new ways to reengage, and the success of the Past Presidents’ luncheon, our Christmas Drinks, the John Pearce Quiz, the Cocktail Masterclass & Taskmaster evening and, finally, last week, the excellent “Cheese & Wine Evening with Animal QC”, aka Gary Bell QC, who was ably interviewed by Barristers’ Representative, Lisa Hardy whilst the rest of us watched, fortified by cheddar and tempranillo.  These hugely successful events, a little to our surprise perhaps, have brought old and new members back into the fold – demonstrated by the number of people who have happily chatted in front of a Zoom screen, where they might not otherwise have attended an event in person.  It certainly means that, whilst I for one keenly anticipate returning to live and in person events again, we will look closely at all the ways in which we can bring our members together, including ways which will avoid travel for those who cannot do so.  The online event is here to stay, even if we all look forward to the time when it is no longer the only weapon in our armoury. 

So I come to the end of my review of the year as outgoing President and turn directly to the future as incoming President.  Let me at once calm those now panicking, asking themselves “Are we only half way through”, and wondering how long I can go on for, by saying that really there is little left to say about the next year.  This has been, after all, something of a success story and, whilst the Society will always keep moving forward, the recipe has proven resilient in hard times and may not need much by way of change.  If I consider where we will go into 2022, then I would be happy if it was more of the same kind of success – I quite believe that it will be.  Thus, the message from your incoming President is shorter and not so very different from that of the outgoing President.  Business as usual, with heads high, moving forward with purpose towards a recognisable resumption of our normality.

Best wishes as ever,

Philip 

Philip Turton

President 2020-2021