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STEP Private Client Awards: Tips for prospective entrants

Scott Devine, Policy and Communications Executive, STEP Worldwide.

As a member of the Policy and Communications team at STEP Head Office, I was among the more than 650 professionals in trusts, estates and private client work who came together at the London Hilton Park Lane in October to celebrate excellence and innovation in the trust and estates industry at the STEP Private Client Awards 2010/11.
Our annual Awards highlight excellence among private client solicitors/attorneys, accountants, barristers, bankers, trust managers and financial advisors.
This year’s awards were presented by Scottish impressionist, playwright and comedian, Rory Bremner whose comedic portrayal of politicians and celebrities was, as always, top drawer, and had all in attendance literally rolling in the aisles.

The Awards are judged by a panel of 16 judges supported by a panel of experts which included over 100 industry professionals worldwide.
One question which is often asked of the team at STEP is: ‘How does one make a winning submission for a STEP Private Client Award?’ Given the frequency with which this is asked of myself and my colleagues, I decided to ask Awards Secretary Keith Johnston to provide me with some guidance for prospective entrants.

Keith began by saying that entries to the STEP Private Client Awards are growing in number every year and that he is often asked what makes an entry stand out. The advice he gives in this article is drawn from many years of reviewing submissions and knowing what the judges like and what they do not. In doing so he wanted to make it clear that he is not making any reference to any individual entry, but rather making more general comments.
Firstly he directed entrants to the criteria used for winners. He said it is surprising how many entrants do not seem to have read the criteria closely. The general criteria for entries were re-jigged for 2010/11 so that there is now more of a focus on excellence, particularly in relation to client service. In previous years ‘excellence and innovation’ were given equal billing. But it was agreed that, as it is possible to be excellent without being innovative, so we should reflect this in the criteria. Innovation remains important of course, but it is now no longer essential.

STEP’s emphasis is really on client service and, in this case, the ‘client’ in ‘client service’ is equally the advisor as well as his or her client (the wealthy entrepreneur for example), so entrants would be well advised to demonstrate excellence on both counts. Any submission should be tailored so that it touches upon all the criteria and entrants will want to expand on those areas where they feel they are especially strong. Although we do not ask that entrants fill in a form, they might consider including a shorthand version of the headings we use in the criteria as part of their submission. This will make the submission more readable for judges who have to peruse over 150+ entries.

The judges generally object to language which makes broad points about a company and which does not relate to excellence as expressed in the criteria. Examples of the total number of staff (as opposed to their quality), the turnover or profitability are generally not well received. ‘Flowery’ language, which appears to sing the praises of a company without giving concrete examples, is dismissed as ‘being written by the marketing department’; perhaps an unfair slur on any competent marketing department! Nevertheless, it appears, after speaking with Keith, that the best entries are written by trust and estate practitioners working with their marketing teams, rather than the marketing teams taking the lead. In Keith’s view, reference to other awards is of limited value and he believes it has alienated as many judges as it has impressed.

Finally there is some guidance that seems so straightforward that, were it not for the fact that so many entrants get this wrong, we would hesitate to give. For example, the word limit for submissions is 1,000 words and the judges are very strict on this matter. Good entries have been refused in the past purely through this oversight, as well as for spelling and grammatical errors. Ideally the 1,000 word limit should include references from third-parties, especially other advisors, but these should be used sparingly.

I hope that this insight into the judging process provides prospective entrants with some useful directions. If you are making a submission for next year’s STEP Private Client Awards (nominations open 1 March 2011), I wish you the very best of luck and I hope to see you there!


Peter Lodder QC, Chairman-elect of the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, will launch Member Services’ new Public Access training programme on Thursday 25 November at St Johns Buildings in Manchester.

Following the amendment of the Public Access Rules on 31 March 2010, members of the public are, in many circumstances, able to directly instruct a barrister who has completed an approved training course. The introduction of the Bar Council’s own Public Access course seeks to raise the quality of training for barristers, which will ultimately improve services for consumers.

The Public Access course will develop a strong understanding of the applicable rules and help to identify when barristers should accept instructions from a lay client, or their intermediary. The course will address client care and communication skills, particularly focussing on how Public Access works for potential clients.

Peter Lodder QC, Chairman-elect of the Bar Council, said:

“Recent changes have enabled members of the public to reduce their legal costs by instructing barristers direct. This will be of particular value in these difficult economic times, and the Bar Council is committed to ensuring that a wider section of barristers are qualified to accept Public Access instruction, and are properly equipped with training and knowledge to provide top quality client care.”

Living here in New Hampshire the “Live free or die” State the machinations of the UK legal system are remote but nevertheless interesting

The Clementi Report seems to herald a sea change of great significance to the practice of the law, Mr. Stephen Hockman QCs article in The Barrister magazine raises a number of issues about independence of the bar. Living here in the USA I have had time over the last few years to assess what a fused profession is like, I have to tell you it isn’t all that attractive.

Many years ago I was active in promoting fusion to some extent at the English Bar; I have however mended my ways and can now clearly see the error of my ways. Fused professions have their points but there are many demerits to the idea that need to be very carefully considered. The Bar Standards Board has metaphorically thrown a wrench (sorry a spanner) into the works by recommending the bar should be able to take up Legal Disciplinary Practice (LPD) structures, in short corporate legal firms rather than independent members of the bar in chambers, this idea seems to me a direct invitation to demolish centuries of accepted practice for no great gain to the public. To me the vice in all this is the creation of just another means of enriching the profession, that is easy to understand but I doubt the public will be better served, the fees will go up, after all the legal profession is a monopoly and as such will tend to charge what the market will bear, I don’t for one moment believe the blandishments of economies of scale.

So what is really going on? The target is the Bar, an independent institution that has a tradition of serving the public with a source of independent practitioners who, along with a right to choose (Cab Rank principle) have been a target of progressive political concern for years. Abolition of wigs, let alone the new strange judicial robes, is a symbol of such desire to eliminate firstly the symbolism of our legal profession of advocacy and secondly, more importantly, its independence, the real objective in all this flummery.
Am I being excessively paranoiac about all this? I don’t think so, the progressive mind seeks a tidy unified profession and all these weird rules and moves are a desire to achieve that objective, a unified legal profession and a more controllable one. The unintended consequences of these designs and machinations are never fully ventilated of even understood.

Over here in the United States the profession is unified, the standards of advocacy, often displayed on TV every day, are often embarrassing. The merit of the UK system is that barristers are selected in a near Darwinian manner by their ability to survive devoid of direct access, and it for the most part, works! We are critiqued by out solicitor brethren and rightly so, many of whom have years of seeing us at work and know a good one when they see one. Over here the big law firms don’t allow juniors out to fly for years, that isn’t a good thing, experience is everything at the bar. The more years you do it the better you become or you leave the profession. The problem here is every lawyer has a right to be heard and some take it up irrespective of their skills and it shows. There are plenty of fine advocates over here but access to them is expensive and limited, there are however, too many far from effective practitioners plying their trade. The solicitors in the UK are at least a filter to limit grossly incompetent lawyers in the court room. Here hiring a turkey, irrespective of Thanks Giving, is an all too often prospect for the benighted client.

A real cause for concern is eroding the sole practitioner status, such action will not improve the quality of advocacy provided to the public. I note the references to the cab rank principle; I perceive a sense of resignation about this concept a ho hum approach that it will have to be considered but we will just have to put up with its demise, though no one wants to put it quite that starkly. I have to warn you that the cab rank principle, intimately connected with the independence of the bar, is essential more so than many understand or recognize. If there is no cab rank where is the independence of the bar? Gone!

LPDs will make it easier for less than talented lawyers to practice and survive who will nevertheless feel free to venture into court to offer a lack lustre service to their clients; it happens here and shouldn’t be exported back to the old country. The divided profession has a purpose, there are at least 80,000 solicitors out there and about 10,000 barristers at the most, the ratio is about right to permit access to advocacy for all, not a feature here in the US of A. There are lawyers here who brag that they have never lost a case, the reason is easy to understand, they pick and choose their cases making such assertions possible. Most of us recall being briefed on a number of turkey cases that were supposedly dead cert losers, nevertheless they were won, here such cases would fall to be represented by inexperienced public defenders or worse still there would be no defence at all after all there would be no money in it. Pro bono won’t cut it out in the sticks either.

In conclusion removing the independent status of the barrister will be detrimental, LPDs will favour the practitioners, I don’t believe the public will be better served, others might disagree, so be it. Experience here in the USA doesn’t bear out that the unified profession has much to offer in improving legal access or advocacy services. The public perception is that the professions are guilty of guild socialism at best and operate to benefit themselves first; LDPs will probably confirm that idea. There is a simple objective in all this a fused profession, it doesn’t seem to me to be good move. Acceptance of increased regulation never does much good only increases costs and fees for next to no benefit, adding LPDs into the mix won’t help. Once again the public will be the losers. Do what you will, fusion by the back door is afoot that is what is apparent to me. Am I wrong?

Howard R Gray BSc(Est Man) MRICS Dip Law
Barrister at Law and Chartered Surveyor
99 Old Brookline Road
New Hampshire
03055 USA



Removing the “Hard” from Hansard

Easy, searchable route to Hansard provided by legal database platform

The accessibility of material from Hansard and other data from the Houses of Parliament is set to improve immeasurably on 1st June when the notoriously difficult-to-navigate website is indexed by a new service, Justis Parliament.

Though jam-packed with highly relevant collateral for lawyers and legal librarians, the transcripts of parliamentary questions, Bills, Select Committees and debates have never been easy to find on the full-text databases on which they’re kept.

When indexed by Justis, this will change. The online legal library from Justis Publishing will link into the full-text sources from its intuitively searchable platform. Going back to 1979, this new material will add three million records to Justis.

Justis Publishing has operated a separate service, Parlianet, since 1994 but its incorporation into Justis opens up this rich resource to practitioners and information specialists, bringing with it a number of key benefits, summed up below.

• Superior search functionality, including preset searches and advanced searches of specific databases – features of the full Justis offering
• Searches that can include the rest of the huge Justis legal library of cases and legislation back to 1163 from the UK, Ireland and beyond
• Superb results handling and filtering
• My Justis, a feature that allows users to save searches, receive user-specified email alerts, see their search trails and record their search activity

Masoud Gerami, managing director of Justis Publishing, said: “This development brings together the powerful platform and the rich collection of Parliamentary proceedings. It will also make this pertinent material more accessible to practitioners in their research activities.”

For further information, please call +44 (0)20 7267 8989 or email



Singapore sling

Cocktail of new legal material on Justis full-text online library

Justis Publishing now hosts the Singapore Law Reports, the Singapore Academy of Law Journal and the Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review on its full-text online legal library, Justis.

Published by the Singapore Academy of Law , the digital versions of these publications – past and present – will be provided by Justis worldwide from 2010 onwards outside Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

As a world first outside those territories, this arrangement includes the recently
re-headnoted archive of the Reports, which goes back to 1965. Though the earlier version of this archive can still be cited, a 2009 direction of Singapore’s Supreme Court requires that the re-headnoted reports, known as the Singapore Law Reports (Reissue), are cited in preference.

Lim Seng Siew, Senior Director of the Singapore Academy of Law, said: “LawNet and the Singapore Academy of Law are proud to work with Justis Publishing to make premium Singapore legal content available to the global legal community. As the world gets more connected and international businesses grow, easy access to laws of different countries, including Singapore’s, is becoming more important to lawyers everywhere.”

The move represents part of Justis Publishing’s continued drive to provide authoritative content from common law jurisdictions around the world, an initiative that has also seen recent content agreements with publishers of material from Canada, Bermuda and Ireland.

Justis Publishing’s managing director, Masoud Gerami, said: “I am delighted that we are now able to offer such valuable material on our Justis platform, alongside other key legal information titles. This partnership is a continuation of the excellent relationship between Justis and the Singapore Academy of Law, and we look forward to further co-operations between the two organizations.”

For further information, please call +44 (0)20 7267 8989 or email

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