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The British Legal Awards 2008 celebrates those who have stood out in the profession over the past year. Bill Knight describes the challenge the judges faced in deciding each winner

When we started judging the British Legal Awards 2008 we knew the economy was deteriorating fast, but the papers we were reading showed a world of work. The profession’s achievements were spread before us – and very impressive they were.

We sat round a conference room table, and if it hadn’t been for the photographer and the journalistic presence of the editor-in-chief of Legal Week, it might have felt like work. John Malpas read out the criteria for each entry as we came to it, and the assigned judges said their bit. We found it easy to reach consensus in all but one or two closely-contested categories. A larger group had a say in firm of the year, but I was the only judge who had to read all the entries – about a foot of paper – and as I was chairing a bunch of acute and attentive lawyers I didn’t get a real chance to sway the proceedings.

Maybe we should record the proceedings. It would be salutary for the profession in what used to be called private practice to hear what the in-house profession has to say, and our academic contributors were pertinent and well-informed. In the end, we had to make up our minds and it was a question of judgement. We did our best and we enjoyed it. We looked for firms and people we thought had made a difference or raised their game. There were many good contenders, but remember; if you don’t enter, you can’t win.

Bill Knight, chairman of the judging panel.

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Judging criteria

Although The British Legal Awards have a UK focus, they are not confined to UK-based firms, departments and teams. This year several international law firms made the shortlists, with White & Case scooping the award for litigation and regulatory team of the year.

These awards do, however, set out to celebrate the achievements of lawyers, law firms, chambers and legal departments that have close links to the UK, and the City of London in particular. With a couple of notable exceptions, categories focused on the activities of lawyers working out of the UK. For example, the flagship ‘law firm of the year’ category was only open to firms with significant UK operations (more than 20 partners).

The lynchpin of each entry was a 1,000-word entry statement. This year for the first time the statement’s word limit was strictly policed, thanks to an online entry process that imposed it ruthlessly.

Entrants were encouraged to address specific criteria in their entry statement, such as client satisfaction, technical innovation or a commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Entrants were also warned that “judges will be harsh on entries that do not include clear statements of objectives and targets supported by evidence that these targets were reached”.

Unsurprisingly, those entries that followed these instructions stood a far better chance of making the shortlist than those that ignored them. Some law firms were let down by poor entries, many more seized the opportunity to shout about their achievements to a panel made up of several senior general counsel.

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The judging panel

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