Bigger and better than ever, the only awards for the legal profession are gearing up to receive your entry

Is client care at the top of your firm's agenda? Does your company employ the best in-house lawyer in the business? Is your firm or chambers making waves in its use of information or technology?

For the second year running, The Lawyer in association with Halifax Independent Financial Advisers (HIFAL) announces a series of awards recognising standards of excellence across the legal profession.

The outstanding success of last year's awards, the first ever for lawyers, has ensured that the 1996 Awards are bigger and better than ever.

The extensive range of awards are sponsored by a number of top-flight advisers in the marketplace. All are united by a desire to see that those who contribute most to the development of the profession receive recognition for their endeavours.

Lawyers often receive bad press but there are few opportunities to highlight the occasions when their performance is outstanding.

The Lawyer and its collaborators took the step of setting up the awards last year as they were conscious that there was no such forum to applaud the various sectors of the profession. This contrasts with other professions and areas of business which regularly have awards to highlight achievements made in their areas.

The number of firms now doing pro bono work is an example of firms going beyond the call of duty. Last year's winner Simons Muirhead & Burton was more than worthy of this award. The firm, which set up a department devoted to non-paying legal work in 1992, employs a specialist lawyer full-time to represent clients before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Many other firms have undertaken pro bono work in different degrees. We hope they will take this opportunity to recognise lawyers who have provided their services for free.

Equally, the legal personality of the year could only have gone to Lord Woolf who is in the process of tackling one of the most difficult problems of the justice system, the efficient running of civil litigation.

Awarding lawyers is one part of the competition. However, as we all know, the backbone to any lawyer, and often the least acknowledged is the legal secretary. The legal secretary of the year award gives lawyers the chance to acknowledge the debt owed to these individuals.

This year there are 16 awards, including three new awards – European law firm of the year, Public sector lawyer of the year and Best managed practice.

We have tried to make the awards as representative as possible. Last year we were pleased to see that entries were submitted by firms of all sizes and locations as well as by in-house legal departments, barristers' chambers and local authority legal departments.

This year we hope to see an equally broad church of applications.

A core team of senior practitioners will participate in the judging of the entries supplemented by specialist non-lawyer judges and a research team from The Lawyer. Some awards will be opened up to the profession, giving lawyers a chance to vote for their peers.

The winners will be announced at a gala evening in London in May set in the luxurious surroundings of the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane.

Mark Wyatt, publisher of The Lawyer, says: “The awards represent an opportunity to give something back to the legal profession.

“We have put a lot of work into ensuring that the awards will be seen as a mark of quality and have assembled a top team of judges to assist in the judging of entries.”

Brian Abram, head of main sponsor

HIFAL, says: “We are pleased and proud to be associated with these prestigious awards for the second year running.”

So what do you have to do to ensure your place for the evening? In the next few weeks, we will give details of each award and how to enter. You can enter as many categories as you think appropriate.

While there is no fee, we are asking those sending in applications to make a donation to the awards' charity Divert. This charity aims to lead young offenders away from crime, by offering an alternative range of activities.