Nick Lee, President’s speech at Annual Awards Dinner, 24 October 2019 banner

Nick Lee, President’s speech at Annual Awards Dinner, 24 October 2019

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Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant, High Sheriff, Mayor of the West of England Combined Authority, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Welcome to Bristol Law Society’s 10th Annual Awards Dinner.

Tonight is about celebrating success. Whilst we will have winners and those shortlisted, I would like to thank everyone who nominated and congratulate all of those who were nominated. Every entrant was a worthy winner and our panel deliberated for many hours over those who should be shortlisted and the winners. I would like to thank my judging panel who gave up a considerable amount of hours in preparation and also gave up an evening for debate.

District Judge Stephanie Cope
Clive Thomas, immediate past president of CLS and MP of Watkins and Gunn
Tiggy Robinson of Nine Feet Tall, one of our strategic partners and one of the sponsors for the awards this evening
Bob Hollis, The Bristol Children’s Help Society
Ben Holt, Senior Vice President of BLS

As I approach the end of my presidential year, it is tradition to take this opportunity to reflect on the past 11 months. I had two major goals this year:

Continue the fantastic work of the Presidents before me; and
Leave a legacy of my own which was focused around raising the profile of our profession in our city.

The one thing that has stood out for me this year has been the collaborative approach that our legal community adopts in making our city a better place.

For example, we launched a Community Engage project which John Moriarty chaired with the support of the High Sheriff and others. The mission was simple. Whilst our legal community was already acknowledged as one of the leading contributors to community engagement, both in terms of time and financial contributions, we wanted to collaborate to achieve something special. Our target was to feed the children of Bristol over the summer holidays.  I will say no more as Charles Wyld will talk about this later this evening.

The theme of helping the community, and in particularly vulnerable children, ties in nicely with my chosen charity of the year- The Bristol Children’s Help Society. Through their fantastic premises, Barton Camp, they provide a glimmer of hope and happiness to the most vulnerable children in our society. Here to tell you a little more about this, is Bob Hollis….

Thanks Bob. It’s easy to forget that there are many in our community that struggle day to day. Hopefully Bob’s words encourage you all to dig deep tonight and fill those envelopes on your table. For the equivalent of a bottle of wine or a nandos, you will be helping to give a vulnerable child a much needed break from their difficult circumstances.

My one regret this year is that I have not had the opportunity to organise more fund raising for our charity. So whilst I am grateful for the contributions you will make this evening, I would also like to propose one last charitable event. Note this date- 22 November. I will be encouraging every law firm to embrace "Casual4Kids". A day where I hope firms will encourage their employees to dress down in an exchange for a £1 donation towards our charity. With about 5000 members this simple initiative could make a huge difference to this charity. So remember “Casual4Kids” on 22 November. Lets hashtag it and get some pictures trending on twitter showing once again how our profession collaborates to help our community.

I want to talk about three other collaborative themes that have launched this year.

Anyone that has spent any time with me over the past 10 months would have heard me talk about Legal Tech. I’ll be the first to admit that at the start I really didn’t know what it all meant. Talk of Hackathons, Design Sprints, CryptoCurrency and BlockChain went completely over my head. But like many of you, I recognised that Tech has a crucial part to play in the legal community. Both in terms of the delivery of our legal services, as in the technology behind the scenes, and in the advice we give to clients about their business. Clients will soon be asking you to protect CryptoAssets in their wills, purchase assets using Bitcoin or work with them on the creation of a Smart Contract. So along with Chris Bull of Kingsmead Square and Dagmar Steffens who is now at WECA, we created Bristol and Bath Legal Tech. The aim was to bring together the Tech experts with those lawyers or firms wo were ready to embrace this brave new world. We have hosted two Meet Ups which have sold out and we have been to Whitehall to meet with MPs and the MOJ who were interested in our venture. Next week we will be showcasing at the Bristol Technology Festival. This was very much a ‘test the waters’ project for BLS, but the temperature is very hot and plainly there is an appetite to develop this further, so watch this space.

Embracing a bit of technology, you will be aware of the Data Protection challenges which make it potentially difficult for us to share a delegate list. So for those of you, who want to connect with people in the room, head to LinkedIn, click the connections/people icon, then select the blue add icon and then “find nearby”. This will create a virtual delegate list of those within a 100m radius. Happy connecting.

Another big feature of my year has been improving links with our community, primarily through the public sector. I have had the pleasure of meeting both, Tim Bowles WECA Mayor and Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, with a clear aim of them better understanding our goals, us better understanding their goals and identifying opportunities to help each other. This has led to me being invited to join Bristol City Councils advisory board for their economic strategy and I am very much looking forward to advancing your views as to the vision and challenges for our economy. Crucially our legal profession must have a seat at the table when initiatives relating to our city are being considered.

The final collaborative venture I would like to mention is that of Bristol Pro Bono Launch. Chaired by Abi Jones at Simmons & Simmons and supported by many of the firms tonight, with Jane Emanuel at Bristol Law Centre helping to drive it forward, the group is mapping the current pro bono requirements within the City and the pro bono contributions within the firms to match that vital need. Yet another example of where the sector gives so much back to the City in the wake of more people finding it harder to access justice.

My final departing gift will be the showcasing event which is being planned for next April. The aim is simple- celebrating those sectors for which are region is best known and showcasing the legal expertise which compliments those sectors. We aim to attract around 200 delegates of which we hope 50% will be non-legal businesses, to showcase those sectors and our legal expertise. Many lawyers seems rather shy when it comes to singing their own praises, so BLS are more than happy to do this on your behalf!

I have been honoured to attend many of your events throughout this year. Many of you have launched your own version of “inclusion” initiatives and again it is an area where collaboration amongst firms has been crucial in propelling these initiatives. It is unfortunate that in a diverse city our professional services are not regarded as being particularly diverse. This was evident from the gender pay gap and the other statistics around diversity. In a city where there are notable pockets of geographical poverty, it is crucial that our profession plays its part in breaking down those barriers. So it is fantastic to hear about all the initiatives which have been commenced to promote inclusion.

My final acknowledgement of our community efforts is to acknowledge the South West Legal Support Trust.  Every year, amongst other things, they organise a Bristol Legal Walk to raise funds for those in most desperate need of free legal advice. For example those facing homelessness or who have been trafficked. I believe the date for next year will be 14 May 2020 and it will be great if, in our 250th year (the oldest local law society in case you didn’t know) we organised the most well-attended walk of all the UK Cities. So let that be a challenge for us next year.

This year also marks the celebration of 100 years of Women in Law. BLS marked this event with an event only last week which included a very distinguished panel of Judges, Barristers and Managing Partners. Again it is fantastic to see the enthusiasm for change and the leaps that have been made towards creating equality.

We have also launched an in-house lawyers conference which is taking place in January. The aim of this is to better engage in-house lawyers with our society. We have welcomed a number of in-house lawyers on to Council who have helped us better understand the needs of in-house lawyers so that we can tailor our offering accordingly.

Hopefully this all sounds fantastic so far…. unless of course you are Helen, John or Clair who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make all of this happen. Each year they take the burdens of our visions and turn them into a reality, so I cannot thank them enough for their support in helping me achieve what I hope has been a successful year.

I have a few more thank yous.

Firstly thank you to all of Council for their support with the vast number of events we now run each year.
Thank you to my firm and colleagues who have supported me and not once complained at my absence from the office.
Thank you to all our sponsors this evening, in particular UWE our headline sponsor. Our sponsors really do make a difference tonight and throughout the year. Please do take the time to speak with them and find out more about their business. We work with companies who we believe can benefit you, so do please make them feel welcome.
Thank you to my wife and children who have not seen much of me this year. Some say they have not seen my wife happier, but she assures me that she is looking forward to spending some more time with me after November.
Thank you to Justin and his team on AV and lighting, and Ceri our events planner who always makes sure this evening runs smoothly and has kept me in check.
Thank you to Vocal Works Gospel Choir and Oxalis who will be providing us with some entertainment this evening.

I would like to welcome and thank our host this evening, Graeme Beveridge. Graeme had a very successful rugby career playing for Bristol, Edinburgh Rugby, Glasgow Warriors and representing his country, Scotland. In 2009 Graeme worked as a Private Wealth Consultant in Bristol before returning to rugby as Glasgow Warriors' operational manager and then being named Academy manager for the Scottish Rugby Academy in Edinburgh. It says here that, Graeme has recently taken the decision to support England in their campaign of this World Cup.... We look forward to hearing from Graeme later.

It has been my absolute pleasure representing our profession and my final thanks is to all of you, our members and friends, for continuing to supporting BLS.

Before I enjoy my 84th 4-course dinner this year, I would like to end with a poem. A few of you will know that in my teenage years I was an aspiring DJ and MC, playing at many nightclubs around Bristol. I never did make it to the big stage, so tonight, since I have your attention, you will learn why. So here goes:

Great places I’ve seen, great people I’ve met

It’s sure been a year I will never forget

From the North to the South, I've met with our peers

As my waistline will show, I've enjoyed a few beers

From a vibrant city that we should all be proud

I’ve shouted our successes, both far and loud

Hold your head high and always stand tall

For this is a profession that’s respected by all

Half black, half young, I don’t like a label

Give it an hour, I’ll be half man and half able

The night is young and the starters in sight

So make some new friends and have a wonderful night

[drops the mic]