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The air crackled with excitement and anticipation as the Law Society of NSW's Annual Members Dinner and Awards Night unfolded at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney on Thursday 7 December.

With over 300 guests in attendance, it was an evening infused with awe and inspiration from the moment they arrived. Among them were NSW Attorney General Michael Daley, Chief Justice Andrew Bell, Chief Magistrate Peter Johnstone, and Law Society of NSW Presidents past and present.

The Grand Ballroom bathed in the warm glow of multicoloured lights that danced and swirled across the room; large LED cherry blossom trees softly lit the corners of the room, and the impressive panoramic digital screen, vibrant and dynamic as the evening’s events, illuminated the stage and captivated the audience.

Channel 10’s Hugh Riminton opened the ceremony and dubbed the event ‘the legal version of the Logies’, or, as he suggested, ‘The Leggies’ for future events. He remarked that 2023 had been a huge year for law, and he couldn’t remember a year in which the law had dominated the news cycle so much.

But on this evening, the spotlight was on the achievements of the most outstanding members of the legal profession, an opportunity for Australia’s leading membership organisation to recognise and celebrate the brightest, most exceptional talents for their remarkable contributions and commitment to the highest ethical and professional standards.

Cassandra Banks, President of the Law Society of NSW, took to the stage to present the prestigious President’s Medal, an annual award that has been recognising its most outstanding members since 2009 and acknowledges a NSW solicitor and member of the Law Society of NSW who has made a significant personal and professional contribution to the improvement of law and justice in the community.

This year, the award went to Peter O’Brien, Principal of O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors.

Banks praised O’Brien as a fearless advocate in criminal and civil law, who has appeared in many jurisdictions, all the way to the High Court, as well as on Royal Commissions and at ICAC; O’Brien published extensively on the law, produced textbooks, taught law, and provided much pro bono work.

“Peter advocated on behalf of a client recently against the State, in what has become a noteworthy precedent for many reasons. In that matter, the police conduct was described by Chief Justice Bell in his joint judgment as the worst case of undermining the criminal justice system in reported cases in New South Wales,” Banks said.

“The decision improved the administration of justice in NSW, with the decision standing as a warning to anyone who seeks to offend against the rights of citizens in future.”

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The Law Society’s Member of the Year is Ali Mojtahedi, Solicitor at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and chair of the Human Rights Committee and member of the Public Law Committee.

The Law Society commended Mojtahedi for his nuanced understanding of the operation of the law, particularly administrative law, and of how this often harshly affects the most vulnerable members of society.

“Ali has supported priorities of Law Society Presidents that have touched on issues of human rights, including most recently the Law Society’s advocacy on human rights legislation for NSW. He assists in bringing an experienced human rights lens, drawing on domestic and international jurisprudence, and understands that the issues tackled by the Human Rights and Public Law Committees do not readily lend themselves to ‘quick fixes’, taking a long-term, thoughtful, and contextual approach to work in these areas.”

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The night went on to honour a diverse array of legal talent in thirteen categories, from experienced Accredited Specialists to the Early Career Lawyer of the Year and those serving in our rural, regional and remote areas.

Crystal Tiggs, Legal and Program Manager, Bugmy Bar Book Project, Aboriginal Legal Service, was honoured as Rural and Regional Practitioner of the Year.

“Crystal is a dedicated, passionate, and talented lawyer who is driven to ensure access to justice for First Nations people in regional areas,” Banks said. “She has mentored lawyers and staff, arranged continuing legal education for practitioners all over NSW, and helped ensure that regional communities receive proper access to justice.”

As the awards concluded, the stage transformed to accommodate a five-piece band with a versatile blend of brass and percussion instruments, and a singing duo who lent their voices to soulful renditions of popular hits, filling and energising the dance floor as guests let their hair down and danced late into the night.

It was indeed the legal profession’s night of nights.

The President and councillors of the Law Society of NSW congratulate all the 2023 Award recipients.

2023 award recipients

  • President’s Medal: Peter O’Brien
  • President’s Medal Highly Commended: Vanessa Vazquez
  • Young Lawyer of the Year: Mei Gong
  • Wellbeing Champion: Leona Bennett. Highly Commended: Stefanie Costi
  • Regional Practitioner of the Year: Crystal Triggs. Highly Commended: Vanessa Vazquez
  • Committee Member of the Year: Ali Mojtahedi. Highly Commended: Jane Sanders
  • Community Service: Sarah Dale
  • Michelle Crowther PSM Award:  Lida Kaban
  • John Hennessy Legal Scholarship: Anthony Levin
  • NSW Young Lawyers Professional Project Award:’Re-Thinking Punishment: An Exploration of Alternative Approaches to Sentencing’
  • NSW Young Lawyers Community Project: ‘How to Effect Broader Change with Lawyer Skills Outside of Lawyering’

Image credit: Oneill Photographics