The cheers, champagne and celebration at the European Awards

What do you get when you put 250 lawyers from some 20 countries in a room together? The Lawyer European Awards, is the answer.

Last night’s ceremony, in a fairy-light strewn ballroom at the Marriott Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square, proved that European lawyers love a chance to get together for some quality networking and some light-hearted guessing at category winners. It also proved that, from small to large, the European legal market is in a fairly buoyant mood at the moment.

The whole European Awards process began several months ago, with a call for nominations. This year, the fifth time we have held the awards, the entries flooded in from across the Continent. Submissions were of impressive quality and caused our panel of judges a fair number of headaches.

The shortlisted firms were the subject of heated debate when the judging panel met in London late last year. In some categories, particularly the European Specialist Firm of the Year, the quality was so high that even just narrowing the shortlist down to six firms was an extremely difficult task.

But every category has to have a winner, and as in previous years, the firms which came out on top in 2014 were a mixture of Europe’s best-known names – like Hengeler Mueller, taking home the German Firm of the Year title – and much smaller players. Examples of the latter were Balkan firm Karanovic & Nikolic, which has taken the brave and unusual step of opening in all the countries of the former Yugoslavia, or France’s Franklin, which judges commended for its vision and also its committment to diversity.

Indeed strategic vision and innovation were the prime qualities the panel was looking for. Plenty of firms have the capability to do the big deals, but not every firm is willing to take the tough decisions when it matters. What stood out particularly for the European Firm of the Year, Russia’s Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners, was the firm’s ability to do both. Last night also proved that the firm is keen to celebrate, with a whole group of Egorov lawyers jumping up to collect each of the three prizes it won.

Other firms worthy of mention when it comes to getting into the spirit of the awards include Spain’s Broseta, whose partners practically danced to the stage to pick up European Banking & Finance Team of the Year. The European Competition Team of the Year from Slaughter and May let out very un-Slaughters-like cheers when their name was read out.

But The Lawyer’s award for really making the most of the night goes to Ashurst, whose lawyers and guests cheered most loudly for the firm’s shortlisting in three of the new practice area categories. The firm proved itself an astonishingly good loser.

Last night’s event was preceded by three roundtables, hosted by shortlisted firms and attended by a mixture of private practice and in-house solicitors and barristers. Look out for reports of the discussions in upcoming issues of The Lawyer and online.