A sold out Bristol Law Society Annual Awards Dinner audience listened as BLS President Michael Gupwell gave a moving keynote speech at which he described his commitment to the Bristol Legal community and how Access to Justice is at the centre of the community.
The highlight of the dinner is the awards, but a rapt audience was transfixed by the President’s opening address.
For those who were not able to attend, the text is here:-
“My Lord Lieutenant, Lord Bishop, High Sheriff, Lord Mayor, Distinguished Guests, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.
We gather this evening to celebrate the achievements of individuals and organisations who have demonstrated something special. We are here to congratulate all those nominated, shortlisted and our eventual winners. But this evening is also a celebration of Bristol’s legal community generally. A celebration of every big deal or unsung effort of which we can be proud.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have served as President of Bristol Law Society, as BLS has played a huge part in my career. It was the legendary Rosie Torre who helped me find my way to some work experience at Gregg Latchams Quinn, as it was then, even before I took the law conversion course at the University of the West of England. That led to a training contract and to where I am standing now, so I am thankful for having the opportunity to give something back to Bristol Law Society and to Gregg Latchams for allowing me that opportunity.
Anyone familiar with Bristol Law Society will know that, while many are close behind us, we are not exactly shy at claiming our title as the oldest local law society in England and Wales, celebrating our 245th anniversary this year, having originally formed in 1770.
But it is more than just numbers or a title. It is a legacy for Bristol. Bristol Law Society was the first time that competing lawyers came together in this country in such a collaboration. Well, in a pub, but as a collective force to meet the challenges of the times. For the founding members, it was the lack of access to the law, enshrined in those expensive leather bound tomes in London, and the time, expense and very real dangers of travelling to London, along roads littered with potholes and highwaymen, to carry out legal research.
During my year in office, there are still a few potholes and, instead of highwaymen, we now have politicians, but there have been serious challenges facing us, our profession and even Justice itself.
Access to Justice has been under siege with savage criminal legal aid cuts, leading to unprecedented action by our criminal defence solicitors and civil court fee price hikes of up to 600%, leaving many individuals and businesses with no redress. Now we are facing court closures in our region and across the country and even more challenges to come.
And there has been one major and persistent challenge that has presented itself along with every other – an apparent lack of public interest.
Everywhere I have been and in every forum where we have discussed the issues, the problem of lack of public support and, thereafter media support, has arisen. It is as if the public do not care what happens to lawyers, or even the law. That is, unless or until it directly affects them.
So, we must shout about the good that we do, publicise our triumphs and the differences we make in society and bang the drum for lawyers, to address the public’s apathy.
After all, we are the administrators of justice, who apply and uphold the law on a daily basis. From the biggest corporate deals, to the amazing pro bono work to support society’s most vulnerable, we all fight to protect the rights and interests of our clients.
You only have to read some of the testimonials out there to see that when we do, we make a huge difference to people’s lives and they are truly grateful.
So, it is vital that we continue to fight to overturn the fat cat stereotype and to protect our justice system and I would encourage all of you and all of your colleagues to grab every opportunity to speak up.
And that is where the collective force of Bristol Law Society can make a difference and where BLS, the Association of South West Law Societies and the Joint 5 Law Societies of Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool can provide a platform. Please get involved and use that opportunity.
However, we’re not giving away any CPD points this evening, so I won’t make this a lecture.
I did deliver some CPD this year when I was invited by Clive Thomas, President of the Monmouthshire Incorporated Law Society, to present at the Local Law Societies National Conference at Celtic Manor in a section that was kindly billed as ‘Beacons of Excellence’. It was with immense pride that I, along with our Business Development Manager, Helen Read, who I volunteered, spoke about the incredible efforts of Past Presidents, Nick Dell, Ashley Palminteri and Ben Tarrant in steadying the ship, reversing the society’s fortunes and setting us back on a positive course after some tough years. To recognise their dedication and their contribution to BLS, I unashamedly renamed the piece ‘Bristol Law Society – Back from the Brink’.
Thanks to their efforts and many others’, we have continued to build this year and to thrive. Our membership is now in the region of 4,000 with more firms joining as corporate members, the number of delegates at our conferences has remained strong, despite the changes in CPD, we’ve put on more seminars and events, our Summer Party sold out again and we had a record number of teams at our recent Music quiz.
So, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has helped make it happen – to those former presidents, to the council and executive of Bristol Law Society, to our fantastic staff, Helen Read and Clair Ponting, who have simply been epic, to all our strategic partners, sponsors and supporters and to our members.
And I would like to say a special thank you to my beautiful fiancée, Emily, for her support, strength, patience, love and kindness throughout my year and for agreeing to marry me. You have been incredible.
But back to this evening. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to make a nomination. It was clear from the calibre of the nominations that a huge amount of thought and effort was involved in putting them together. You certainly gave the judging panel a challenging task in refining the categories into the final 3 from pools of very strong nominees, whose efforts and achievements are a huge credit to our area and our profession. So my thanks go to the judges.
And I’d like to thank the award sponsors and the event sponsors for allowing us to host this celebration of those achievements. In particular, thank you to our lead sponsor for the 6th year in a row, the University of the West of England. Without all your support, none of this would be possible.
Nor would any of this have happened without the hard work, organisation and imagination of the committee, who began the planning within a week of last year’s event. Or was it in the bar after last year’s awards? I’d especially like to thank our event co-ordinator, Ceri Beveridge, for her diligence and attention to every detail, and for keeping me calm.
And thanks also to Ian Kelcey, his team and others for organising our charity raffle prizes this evening, and to everyone who generously donated a prize.
Tonight, we are raising money for St Peters Hospice, which we will hear more about in a moment from Edd Smith.
I chose St Peter’s Hospice partly through seeing the amazing work they do when they were Gregg Latchams’ charity last year, partly through hearing about Emily’s own experience of their amazing work and partly after a conversation with Roger Isaacs, of Milsted Langdon.
Roger is a trustee and treasurer of the charity and we talked about their needing to raise £18k every single day just to operate. That’s a staggering £6.5 million a year. As a not for profit organisation, I was concerned that BLS’s fundraising potential would only be a drop in the ocean. Roger put it very simply and said the charity needs every little drop to create that ocean. So, let’s see how big we can make that drop.
In keeping with the BLS tradition of alternative, if not experimental prize draws, there may not be a straightforward correlation between the money you give and your chances of winning, but all the prizes have been donated with the intention of raising as much money as possible for a very worthy cause, and I am a great believer in Karma, so please do give generously. If you haven’t brought any cash with you this evening, why not borrow some and promise to buy a round in the bar later. The Gift-Aid envelopes will be collected after the meal and I will ask council member and quiz-master extraordinaire, Ben Holt, to explain and run the draw after dinner.”