James Walsh steps down as Plymouth Law Society President
GA Partner James Walsh has just stepped down as President of The Plymouth Law Society after what has been an eventful and unusual two years term in the role.
Shortly after handing over the Presidency to Craig Moore at Womble Bond Dickinson, with Rebecca Wood of Woollcombe Younge taking over as Vice President, GA Solicitors interviewed James to reflect on his term in office, the longest since Mr P S Snell in 1933.
Cast your mind back to January 2020, what were you hoping to achieve as President?
Well, I was full of optimism as usual but it is fair to say that it was tempered a bit a couple of months later!
In answer to your question though, I really wanted us to fully participate in Plymouth’s Mayflower 2020 celebrations; improve our communication, particularly with the next generation of lawyers in the city; and raise as much money as we possibly could for a local charity from the various events we had planned for what was shaping up as a big year for Plymouth.
Covid then arrived in the UK, what were you thinking about its impact on the legal community?
Very quickly offices closed, most of the legal community was working from home and some were furloughed. It was really tough so naturally we were really concerned about mental health in the legal community.
Like most organisations, we adapted as quickly as possible and turned our attention to how we could support our members. Our plans changed quite a bit but we were more determined than ever to support our membership, young lawyers and local charities that were really struggling.
Also, at that time, we had no idea how long the pandemic would last so we were hopeful that events could return to normal at some point.
How did your role change during the pandemic?
Given the rapid pace of change, I adapted to become something of a communications conduit between our members, the courts, government and the local profession across three lockdowns.
We stepped up the development of our new website and the regularity of newsletters to members to share updates, best practices and opportunities to learn.
It has been a really tough time, but I am so glad to hear how our Plymouth firms have rapidly adapted and the majority of our firms have not just survived, but have been able to operate successfully during this period.
Of most enjoyment to me over the last two years was our interaction with the next generation of Plymouth lawyers and our work with the University of Plymouth. Covid has not stopped events from taking place and we have had some memorable virtual evenings talking about careers; training contracts; and what life is like as a lawyer. One of my missions for my presidency was to try and put across to the students that Plymouth has a very skilled industry of lawyers and they do not need to leave the city to have a successful career in law. This culminated in more or less my last event as President where I gave a speech to the students at their Annual Cheese and Wine Networking event in December at The Box. The feedback given to my colleagues and I filled me with excitement that we have a great prospect of a new generation of very talented lawyers ready to continue our legacy with the Plymouth Law Society.
A big highlight was seeing over 250 of our members, sponsors and supporters all gathered together at Plymouth Argyle for the Plymouth Law Society Dinner in October 2021 for the first time in 18 months. I even managed to pull in a favour and get my old primary school friend and Mercury Music Prize winner Seth Lakeman to kick off the entertainment! It really was a great night.
With numbers well up on 2019 and plenty of generosity in the room, the Dinner raised over £3000 for St Luke’s Hospice. It was a particularly poignant donation. Not only is it a charity so close to many people’s hearts in Plymouth, it was also nice to give something back to their amazing team who looked after GA partner and Plymouth legal legend Phil Oke before he sadly passed away in 2021.
As a proud Plymouthian, I desperately wanted to contribute to Plymouth’s Mayflower 2020 celebrations. We twice had Lady Brenda Hale booked for our Mayflower 400 lecture but sadly we were unable to welcome one of the most senior (and famous) judges to our city. It is my hope that she will be able to join us in November this year.
Crikey! There are lots of people to thank, not least our entire membership and the leadership teams both regionally and nationally at The Law Society who have been hugely supportive over the past two years.
My wife Cherry and family, as always, have been hugely supportive.
My fellow committee members Rhodri Davey, Steven Hudson, Craig Moore, Rebecca Wood have worked tirelessly in the most difficult of times whilst, of course, continuing to do great work in their ‘day jobs’.
What are you going to do now?
As always, I’ve got plenty to work on in my role as Partner and Head of the Industrial Disease Team at GA.
As far as the Law Society is concerned, I’ll continue to be an active member of the committee as Treasurer. I’m delighted to be passing on the Presidency to Craig, he’ll do a great job and I’m really looking forward to supporting him.
You know, us lawyers in Plymouth are a very collaborative bunch. We really understand how important the profession is to the local economy. It has been a great privilege to be at the centre of that partnership and I’m very optimistic about the future of the legal community in the city.