Judging Panel

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


Head Judge | Stephen Gowland

Stephen was the 50th national President of Cilex and the first who was also qualified as a solicitor. He spent ten years on the Cilex board. He started his career as an apprentice and qualified as a lawyer whilst working full time. He was the first Cilex apprentice to sit on the Cilex board and has championed apprenticeships throughout his career.

He has worked in various law firms dealing with general civil litigation which included dealing with civil actions against the police and sexual abuse claims. He ran his own successful high street firm for twelve years before moving on to pursue other opportunities.

He now works in-house and sits as a police misconduct judge for twenty-two police forces across England and Wales and chairs tribunals for UK registered doctors. He also works as an associate with the College of Policing assisting them with recruitment and promotion for UK police forces.

He was appointed to the Legal Services Board in August 2020 and is the first Cilex member to sit as a non-executive board member for the oversight regulator.  In his spare time, he enjoys reading about ancient history, Ian Rankin books and spending holidays in his VW campervan.


Judge | Sally Penni MBE

Sally Penni is an award-winning practicing Barrister at Law with almost 20 years of experience and a Non-Exec Director of Codethink Ltd, a fin tech company.

In 2012 Sally founded Women in the Law and Business UK a non-profit professional development organisation providing mentoring and inspiring tomorrows future lawyers.

Sally practices in Employment Law, Regulatory Crime and Cyber Security Law having started her law career in serious crime of young offenders and mental health.


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.

David Opie

Judge | David Opie

David led the management buyout of Solve Legal Marketing in 2021, rebranding to Today’s Media and is responsible for the day to day running of the business. David brings 10 years experience in the legal services sector to the popular “Today’s” news publications; the extensive events programme including The British Conveyancing Awards and The British Wills and Probate Awards; and, with a background in sales and marketing, an expert focus on providing outstanding content through Today’s Legal Content.


Judge | Carmen Nadolu

Having spent several years as a Qualified Lawyer in her home country, Carmen became the IoP's Head of Membership in 2015.  She has participated in the growth of the organisation, from recruiting new members, through managing complex complaint resolution and intake processes.  

Carmen’s day-to-day activities in the supervision of the administrative activities to facilitate the smooth and efficient running of the IoP office include assisting with membership processes, dealing with membership issues, liaising with members and the general public, co-editing the monthly newsletter.  At the IoP, no two days are the same and there's never a dull moment. 

Stephen Ward

Judge | Katrina Robinson MBE

Katrina is an Associate in Capsticks Solicitors having spent a number of years in in-house roles where her previous team won the Law Society Excellence Award for the in-house category in 2017.  She was also the Independent Adjudicator for Grenfell.

She specialises in combating anti-social behaviour and tenancy fraud and was awarded an MBE for services to social housing in the New Year’s Honours List in 2016.  Katrina is passionate about protecting the victims of anti-social behaviour and fraud. She is also the Chair of the Law Society’s LGBT+ Division. Katrina is also the founding member and Chair of the Tenancy Fraud Forum which brings together all social landlords to identify and stop tenancy fraud.


Judge | Rachel Tombs

Rachel was a practising Solicitor for 15 years before setting up her own business helping legal professionals, who want to attract new clients and grow their practices and achieve exceptional results. Since leaving practise, 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.


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.

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. 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 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 | Tim Kidd

Tim is the Chief Executive of The Institute of Legal Finance & Management is one of the UK's leading membership organisations in the legal sector.

It provides qualifications, training, knowledge, support and information for anyone working in legal finance and in legal practice management. Our members include legal cashiers, accounts managers, compliance officers for finance and administration (COFAs), practice managers and sole practitioners.

We offer recognised professional qualifications, regular training days on issues relevant to the industry, regulatory information and many support features and services, including an industry magazine. The Institute has become the resource of choice for thousands of leading professionals in the legal sector, including many considering a new career in the legal sector. 

The Institute is dedicated to driving innovation, advancing education and promoting excellence throughout the legal sector. Our training and education aim to raise awareness, advocate good business practice and maintain high standards, to ensure that clients’ money and assets are protected and treated ethically.

James O’Connell

Judge | Barbara Hamilton-Bruce

Barbara is Business Manager for Simmons & Simmons Solutions Limited, our International Practice Group that houses the capabilities, teams, products and services that collectively represent our enhanced range of non-traditional legal services: eDiscovery Solutions, flexible resourcing (Adaptive), data science and legal engineering (Simmons Wavelength), product development and management (New Business), service optimisation and legal project management (Service Excellence) and our enviable range of digital products and productised services.

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 followed a less traditional path with a high emphasis on celebrating and promoting social mobility: combing legal study with legal practice Barbara qualified as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives in 2003. Barbara continues to champion accessibility spending time as CILEx Council and Committee Member and subsequently a role as Non-Executive Director of CILEx Law School that coincided with the launch of Trailblazer Apprenticeships.

In 2019 Barbara adopted the role of Apprenticeship Supervisor helping support the next generation of CILEx lawyers to meet their career aspirations.


Judge | Pippa Marler

Pippa is a dedicated Diversity and Inclusion specialist with over 20 years experience in the legal sector.  She is a passionate champion for the inclusion of all underrepresented communities and has worked to improve access to law.

In her spare time she enjoys Stand Up Paddle-boarding and dressmaking.

James O’Connell

Judge | Nick Harrison

Nick is a Partner in the Commercial and TMT department at Dentons specialising in the Sports and Retail sectors. Nick operates out of Milton Keynes, running the office's TMT practice and serving as a relationship partner for Dentons' next generation legal service, Helix.

He has extensive in-house experience having undertaken roles with Debenhams and Burton's Biscuits in addition to secondments with the John Lewis Partnership, Sainsbury's and TOTAL. Nick is passionate about the development of talent without compromising their authenticity.

When not working he can be found watching his beloved Birmingham City FC.


Judge | Malvika Jaganmohan

Malvika is a barrister specialising in family law. Following a serious mental health crisis in her pupillage year, Malvika has tried to encourage open discussions around mental ill-health amongst lawyers and the support that can be put in place for them. She runs a blog called ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ which aims to challenge mental health stigma within the profession.

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