Judging Panel

The Awards judging panel is made up of sponsors and other highly regarded legal and business professionals.


Head Judge | Esperanza Fuentes

Esperanza started her legal career in the commercial law sector. After a career break she spent a year at the CPS then joined Which? Legal where she advised on a range of issues including consumer law and employment law, and appeared on national and local TV and radio. When she was appointed Head Of Legal Operations she led a team of 20 lawyers and introduced paralegals to the team for the first time. Esperanza now works in the area of dispute resolution.

Esperanza is passionate about developing new talent and is keen to see more diversity in the legal profession and more development opportunities for aspiring newcomers. She also believes that the public need new ways of accessing legal information and advice which are relevant to their needs and professionally and expertly delivered.


Judge | Neil Roberts

Neil qualified as a solicitor in 2004 and for many years worked in the Legal Expenses Insurance sector, initially advising LEI customers on consumer and employment matters, before moving on to lead the LEI claims department at Direct Line.

Neil was involved in the creation of DLG Legal Services, the ABS set up and owned by Direct Line in 2014, and managed the firm’s Bristol office for five years.

In 2019, Neil moved to the consumer organisation Which? to head up their legal services offering. Which? Legal provides a low-cost accessible advice service to consumers, as well as a Wills and Powers of Attorney service.


Judge | Rachel Tombs

Rachel was a practising Solicitor for 13 years before setting up her own business helping legal professionals, who want to attract new clients and grow their practises and achieve exceptional results. Since leaving practice, Rachel has worked with over 500 businesses and law firms, delivering bespoke and effective marketing and business development services. Rachel’s knowledge of the legal sector means she is able to offer proven, reliable advice that makes a measurable and substantial difference to law practices, using both online and offline marketing tools to generate maximum results.

Rachel has won a national award and two regional business awards in recognition of her expertise and commitment to helping others succeed. She has been featured in a number of legal publications including the Solicitors Journal, Sole Practitioners Group Journal SOLO magazine, CILEx Regulation etc. She has also presented at events hosted by the Employment Lawyers Association, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Standing Conference of Mediation Advocates, Sole Practitioners Group and The Law Society.

Stephen Ward

Judge | Stephen Ward

Stephen Ward has been a barristers' clerk since 1983, becoming a senior clerk in 1993.  Aged 25, Stephen was one of the youngest senior clerks in the UK after 10 years experience in the Temple and Grays Inn, London.  Now Stephen is co-owner and co-founded Clerksroom Barristers in 2001, more recently added Clerksroom Direct in 2015, which is a web based portal allowing anyone to go direct to a UK qualified Barrister. Clerksroom Direct was voted the UK's 2nd most Disruptive Tech Start Up company 2017 by Disruptive Pitch TV (15th March 2017)

Stephen’s current roles include Managing Director of Clerksroom Barristers, Clerksroom Mediation & Clerksroom Direct. Stephen has recently taken on the additional task of project manager for Billy Bot, the chat bot junior clerk. 

Stephen has won many awards for innovation and appeared in numerous publications with a focus on disruption in the legal tech environment in the UK.

Hilary Underwood

Judge | Hilary Underwood

Hilary is a specialist family lawyer with over 20 years experience. In her practice H A Underwood Solicitors, based in Kent, she focuses upon children issues and is an expert practitioner in the complex field of parental alienation and high conflict family law and is a member of the Parental Alienation Study Group. She is passionate about helping those who are victims of this damaging form of child abuse. Hilary is also twice winner of the Lawyer Monthly Women in Law Awards - Advocacy Solicitor of the Year (UK). She is former co-Director of the Hexagon Legal Network, former Interim CEO of the Surrey Law Society and former Chairwoman of the Sole Practitioners Group.

Hugh Anderson McKnight

Judge | Hugh Anderson McKnight

Hugh Anderson McKnight is Director of Learning and Business Development at CLT Scotland, part of The University of Law, where he is responsible for Specialist Paralegal Qualifications throughout the UK. He has worked in human resource development for over 25 years. Much of his career has been spent managing training functions and projects both in Europe and Asia; he has worked within the legal sector for the last 14 years. Hugh has a research interest in professional competence and presented the paper ‘Professional Competence: can it be taught?' at the UK Centre for Legal Education's international conference. Hugh holds a Master's degree (awarded with distinction) in the Management of Training and Development from the University of Edinburgh and is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Judge | Neil Newman

Neil is Commercial Director at The Chartered Governance Institute UK and Ireland. Prior to CGI he worked as Director of Development at the Institute of Paralegals and Director of Communications and Membership at the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. Neil also holds non-executive positions in the regulatory and private sector.

James O’Connell

Judge | James O’Connell

James is a partner in the Commercial Dept of May Wynne Baxter solicitors in Sussex. He specialises in crypto-currencies, blockchain and NFTs as well as more traditional work such as drafting contracts.

He is qualified as a solicitor in both England/Wales and Hong Kong. James has practiced law internationally and in the City. Having created and sold several companies himself, he understands the commercial and practical realities of setting up and running a business.

He founded the Institute of Paralegals back in 2002; was the first lay member of the City of Westminster Council’s Standards Committee and helped establish an Equality and Human Rights Commission working group to promote diversity in the professions.

He has made numerous presentations, including to the Vietnamese government on anti-counterfeiting law and was a member of a Hong Kong government advisory panel. He has published many articles and edited an FT Law & Tax book on management.

James has been very active in legal education, having been an Adjunct Professor to Syracuse University’s law school, an Associate Professor of Law at City University in Hong Kong and a law tutor for ICE at the University of Cambridge.

When not working James likes to relax to the point where, on occasion, he seems to be half man, half sofa. This doesn’t happen too often as he has a young family and Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society to contend with.


Judge | Dominique Edell

Dominique is the Charity Officer for the CILEX Foundation, an independent charity supporting members of CILEX and those wishing to study the CILEX route to Law.

Dominique started her career in Policing, with roles in CID, Major Crime and Public Protection teams.

During a posting to a Child Protection Team, Dominique realised that her vast Police training had not included any input in other areas of law. Having previously studied the police-specific ‘Advanced Disclosure and Criminal Evidence’ certificate through ILEX Tutorial College, Dominique enrolled on the Level 3 Family certificate, and continued to self-fund her studies with CILEX Law School to attain her Diploma in Law with distinction.

This qualification enabled Dominique to transition to a role in a Family Law firm, where she was an Associate Legal Executive specialising in Divorce. Later, she worked for a national Domestic Violence charity, drawing on her CILEX legal education to inform victim support practices.

Since 2020 Dominique has developed and overseen the CILEX Foundation’s charitable activity, including the CILEX Lawyer Scholarships programmes, Bursary and Welfare grant schemes and encouraging members who wish to expand their skills through voluntary work. Her varied career in Law and affiliated professions provided an insight into the challenges and needs of those starting their legal careers.

Her professional challenge for 2023-2024 is to develop the Charity’s fundraising activity, to allow the important work of the CILEX Foundation to continue.

Dominique enjoys being busy outside of work; when not spending family time with her two young children, husband, and bulldog, she sits on the Trustee board of a local homeless charity.

James O’Connell

Judge | Barbara Hamilton-Bruce

Barbara is Head of Client and Business Operations for Simmons & Simmons Solutions Limited.

Barbara brings a diverse range of insights and perspectives from time spent as private practice litigation lawyer, legal operations leader (in-house and then alternative business structure), buyer of commercial legal services, senior executive and non-executive director.

Barbara’s route into the law combined legal study with legal practice, qualifying as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives in 2003. 

Barbara is an Apprenticeship Supervisor helping support the next generation of CILEX lawyers to meet their career aspirations.

Amanda Lee

Judge | Amanda Lee

Amanda J. Lee, FCIArb is an Arbitrator, and a Consultant at Costigan King, London, where her practice focuses on commercial dispute resolution, with particular emphasis on the automotive, finance, and waste management industries. She is the present Chair of the PPR’s Register Regulatory Committee. She has been appointed as sole arbitrator on 25+ occasions and holds numerous advisory roles. Amanda is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Law, UK, a member of the ArbitralWomen Advisory Council, and the INIAC Advisory Board, and an Ambassador for R.E.A.L. – Racial Equality for Arbitration Lawyers. She is the Founder of Careers in Arbitration, and ARBalance, and a recipient of the 2022 CPR Award for Outstanding Contribution to Diversity in ADR.


Judge | Malvika Jaganmohan

Malvika Jaganmohan is a family law barrister at St Ives Chambers in Birmingham. She was named a Tier One ‘Rising Star (Children Law: Public and Private)’ in the Legal 500 2023. She is co-author of the book ‘A Practical Guide to Practice Direction 12J and Domestic Abuse in Private Law Children Proceedings’ and she co-hosts a popular family law podcast called ‘Professionally Embarrassing’ which was shortlisted for ‘Family Law Commentator of the Year’ in the LexisNexis Family Law Awards in 2021 and 2022.

Alongside her practice, she is a founding member of Women in Family Law. She is a Champion for LawCare and runs her own blog - Stiff Upper Lip - on mental health issues within the legal profession. She is also part of the core group for The Transparency Project, a charity which explains and discusses family law cases in England and Wales with the aim of demystifying the family justice system.


Judge | Master Victoria McCloud

Judge (Dr) Victoria McCloud sits in London as a King's Bench Master in the High Court and was the youngest (and only second woman) to have been appointed. She sits on the Civil Justice Committee Working Group on Pre-action Protocols and was one of the authors of the most recent main edition of the Equal Treatment Bench Book.  She is a Chartered Psychologist, Advisory Head of Interdisciplinary Collaborations at the EU Euro-Expert project at the Sorbonne, Paris,  a Senior Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies London, and Associate Fellow at the Global Network on Extremism and Technology. She is a regular national and international speaker and author on legal tech and also diversity and culture issues in the law.

  Victoria is an expert on the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Working Group on non-recent child abuse, and recently served as one of 12 Nominated Whistleblowing judges in the UK. Her publications include 'The Surveillance & Intelligence Law Handbook', civil procedure titles and papers, and a short book of poetry. She was one of the Sunday Times’ ’50 Women of the Year’ 2020 and one of 100 women lawyers spanning the first century since women were permitted to practise law, chosen for the First 100 Years project, and has been selected by Sheffield University as one of a range of “legal heroes” to be honoured with a plaque at the Law Faculty there. In 2022 she was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award by the Professional Paralegal Register.

She is thought to have been the country’s first practising barrister who was also trans, practising back in the 1990’s, and the country’s first known judge from the trans community, having been appointed first as a deputy judge in 2006 and then full time in 2010. She is also well-known for spearheading the “McCloud” litigation which reversed pension cuts to most of the Public Sector, on the basis of age, sex and race discrimination.


Judge | Leila Chaudry

Leila has background of working for the Law Society, investigating issues of poor service and misconduct for over seven years and then providing compliance advice and assistance direct to the Legal Profession since 2011 via her own Legal Compliance Consultancy. She is a Law Society Accredited Advanced Risk and Compliance Practitioner, Law Society trained Lexcel Consultant and a Fellow of the Institute of Paralegals. In addition, Leila sits as a Presiding Justice at the Family Magistrate Court on the Birmingham and Solihull bench and is a local Councillor.

Judge | Shak Inayat

Shak Inayat is dual-qualified with the SRA and FCA as a Solicitor and a certified mortgages, protections and equity release specialist respectively. The two skill sets enable the delivery of sophisticated legal solutions dovetailed with financial planning objectives to ensure that the outcomes achieve client’s optimum long-term goals.

Shak served with HM Reserves (Army) for many years some of which were served as an All Arms Commando. Shak enjoys running half marathons now for charity.


Judge | Rebecca Kennedy

Rebecca’s career in the legal sector took off at the age of 17 as a debt recovery administrator. Following this, in 2014 she began her time as a paralegal, where she specialised in non-contentious construction law. After working in this area of law for over 6 years, Rebecca is now a paralegal manager within Pinsent Masons’ newly developed Paralegal Centre of Excellence. The PCoE was launched in July 2021 and now consists of over 100 paralegals who work across all practice areas within the firm. Rebecca focusses on the Banking & Restructuring, Insurance, Regulation & Products, Pensions and Projects teams in particular, and was also shortlisted as a finalist for the Birmingham Law Society ‘Paralegal of the Year’ award 2018 and 2020.

Judge | Dr Jessica Guth

Jess is the Head of the School of Law at Birmingham City University and a thought leader in the field of legal education. Throughout her career she has championed the importance of diverse Law Schools and Legal Professions through her work  as a highly effective leader, educator and researcher. Jess’ teaching experience spans the legal curriculum at undergraduate and postgraduate level and she has developed a number of innovative curricula which aim to widen access to and participation in legal education and practice. Her research work in this area focuses on the impact of academic identities, of pedagogies and of law school cultures on staff and students. Jess also researchers in the field of European Law and Policy and most recently has been examining gender in relation to the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights.

Jess is an Executive Committee Member and former Chair of the Association of Law Teacher and the joint General Editor of the Law Teacher: The International Journal of Legal Education. She is Co-Convenor for the Legal Education Subject Section for the Society of Legal Scholars and sits on the Education Sub-Committee for that Society. She has also served as an executive member of the Socio-Legal Studies Association. Jess was a member of the Quality Assurance Agency Subject Benchmark Advisory groups in 2015 and in 2022 as well as of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s SQE working group. Jess is currently undertaking a DBA in Higher Education Management with the University of Bath.


Judge | Charlotte Cale

Charlotte Cale is currently Acting Head of Clifford Chance's Newcastle office and has worked in the industry since 2006. She has worked in a range of roles within the industry including, fee earning, compliance, transformation and operations management.  

Charlotte has a wealth of people management experience and has taken the lead on a number of major people engagement and talent management programmes within Clifford Chance, including a bespoke training programme for the paralegal population. This equips her Paralegal team with the skills and knowledge to thrive within their role and provides opportunities for further development and career growth.  

Charlotte also has extensive experience in optimising performance and efficiencies through team constructs and quality assurance application. 


Judge | Helen Opie

Helen Opie is Chief Executive of the Surrey Law Society, a membership organisation of over 800 legal practitioners and law firms in the county of Surrey.  Helen is responsible for the management of the Society, including the conception and delivery of its training programme, coordination of social events, membership recruitment and retention and sponsorship strategy.  In 2008, Helen conceived the SLS Legal Awards alongside President at the time, James Scozzi.  The event was born to recognise the exceptional legal talent across the county and now in its 5th year, has grown to be the Society’s flagship event, attracting nominations across 12 award categories and 250 attendees to the annual gala dinner and presentation ceremony.   Prior to joining the Surrey Law Society, Helen had a number of roles organising high-profile events for various sectors, including large international summits for Heads of State and Senior Ministers operating in Defence and Foreign Affairs. 
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