Recognising real class when you see it

Of the numerous awards that were given out at last week's The Lawyer Awards two particularly stood out. The first was assistant solicitor of the year Owen Williams of Clarke Willmott & Clarke.

The plaudits on the night should be put alongside the fact that Williams was chosen by some of the most respected names in the profession including Clifford Chance managing partner Tony Williams, Slaughter and May partner Patrick Balfour and Freshfields senior partner Anthony Salz. Leading business lawyers, High Court judges and eminent QCs all chose Williams, but at the start of his career he received almost 600 rejection letters – possibly because of the class of his degree – from law firms before finally landing a training contract three years ago (see front page).

Clarke Willmott & Clarke and Williams have every right to pat themselves on the back, but this is more than just a story with a happy ending. Firms should be asking themselves whether their selection criteria are working effectively when they automatically reject lawyers of Williams' calibre. And it also provides an example to those budding lawyers trying to gain a training contract not to give up, despite often big setbacks.

Another example of grit and determination is Doreen Lawrence who made a moving speech about her lawyer, Imran Khan, who was awarded Personality of the Year.

She said: "In the six years (of the case) he has been there every step of the way. It doesn't matter what time of the day or night, whatever it is when I phone him, he's never too tired, never too busy, to take a call from me and without him I don't think we would have got to the stage we got to in the last six years."

She echoed the feelings of many clients towards their lawyers and gave a powerful reminder to the spindoctors in the Lord Chancellor's Department and sections of the media who seek to brand hard-working and dedicated lawyers as fat cats who only care about money. The legal profession chose Imran Khan because he symbolises the type of lawyer for whom dedication and commitment to their client's cause is paramount.