In this month’s Leeds and Yorkshire Lawyer magazine, James Staton, litigation partner and president of Huddersfield & Dewsbury Incorporated Law Society, talks about how the society is faring and its upcoming plans.
Like the rest of the country, the last 18 months has been an unusual time for local law societies such as Huddersfield & Dewsbury Incorporated Law Society. My predecessor as president, James Smith, kept the society going with monthly remote committee meetings. I was privileged to become president at the society’s first virtual AGM. For most of 2021, we have continued with monthly virtual committee meetings, but the last two have been held face to face and it was good to meet up again with colleagues from across the district. The society serves the Kirklees area centred upon Huddersfield and Dewsbury, both towns with an industrial heritage based on textiles. Although the textile industry has declined, there remains a strong industrial base focused on chemicals and engineering.
The majority of firms that make up the society’s membership are traditional high street practices, but there is a handful of specialist criminal and personal injury firms, as well as the offices of larger firms that are more regionally based across Yorkshire, such as Chadwick Lawrence, Ramsdens, Switalskis and my own firm, Schofield Sweeney. Clients in the area maintain a strong loyalty to lawyers who are based locally
Although serving the lawyers of Huddersfield and Dewsbury, the society has an international perspective being the only local law society twinned with a national one, the Law Society of Uganda. For more than 20 years, the society’s Uganda Twinning Committee has supported lawyers and the legal profession in Uganda, sending in November each year a delegation of four solicitors to provide training to Ugandan lawyers.
The Ugandan connection was the brainchild of Nigel Priestley, senior partner at Ridley & Hall. Nigel has long had an interest in Uganda and has been the driving force of the Twinning Committee. In the New Year’s Honours List for 2021, his services to law were recognised by the award of an MBE. The pandemic prevented a team delivering any training in Uganda in 2020 and the society is currently considering how to continue the link with Uganda in the post-pandemic world.
The largest employer locally is the University of Huddersfield and the society has strong links with it, not least because our hardworking secretary, Natalie Prowse, is a senior lecturer in law at the university. Many solicitors in the area are former students as are several of the committee, including our current vice president, Alistair James of Ramsdens. Society members have given masterclasses and lectures to students on several occasions, and local lawyers and students have joined forces to support the annual national legal quiz in support of the Access to Justice Foundation.
The committee of the society is not just open to solicitors, there are trainees on the committee and the chair of the conveyancing sub-committee, SallyAnn Masih, is a conveyancer in the residential team at my firm. We have recently been joined on the committee by two more young lawyers, Alannah Crux and Tasneem Patel. As a solicitor for almost 40 years, it is good to see enthusiastic young lawyers wanting to play their part in supporting the local profession.
The society is an active one. In a normal year, it hosts a range of training seminars as well as other events, but as with 2020, this year the committee has been hampered in organising activities because of the continuing restrictions caused by the pandemic. However, the society did hold its annual dinner on 22 October 2021 at the Manor House, Lindley, and the committee is making plans to resume its traditional activities, including the ‘Round the Res’ run/walk at Scammonden Reservoir, which raises funds for the president’s chosen charity, the annual softball competition and curry evening/quiz, both of which have been fundraisers for the Uganda Twinning Committee, and the giant games evening. All of these events have been well supported by other local professionals such as accountants, surveyors and banks.
The society has good links with the local court, regularly holding events with district judges that have proved useful for lawyers who appear before them. Fortunately, Huddersfield has retained its county court while many others, including that at Dewsbury, have been forced to close. One of the longstanding judges, District Judge Barraclough, retired this year, but District Judge Uppal, a former partner of Switalskis, has been appointed to sit at
Huddersfield in his place. I am pleased to say that Huddersfield & Dewsbury Incorporated Law Society remains strong and that its committee is looking forward to a year of renewed activity in 2022.