Julian Tonks’ Memorial Prize Winner 2016

Julian Tonks was a former Senior Partner, and the pioneering force who saw a series of mergers transform what was Pinsent & Co (a Birmingham-based law firm) into the top international law firm that Pinsent Masons is today.  Sadly, Mr Tonks passed away in 2014 as a result of Parkinson’s Disease, and it seemed only right that the firm he had transformed honour his impact.  With the Gap Year scheme close to his heart, it made sense that Pinsent Masons offer its Gap Year Students the opportunity to enter an essay writing competition, with the chance to meet the Tonks family and win £500.

The question asked of the students in the third year of the competition was ‘How best could Pinsent Masons embrace our core values in a growing business?‘ – A question which clearly reflects the gravity placed on responsible business by the firm, as well as being representative of the constant push for progression and improvement championed by the competition’s namesake.

In order to understand how Pinsent Masons could embrace their core values, it was vital to me to first understand the meaning of the values – what exactly does it mean to be Approachable, Bold and Connected, and how does this correlate with the growth of the firm? It became clear to me that there were deep intersections between each of these values and therefore the firm must seek to find solutions which aim to improve all of these values at once. In striving to improve connections we must be bold, but in being bold we must remain approachable, and so on. It simply does not do to see each of these values in isolation, but rather as pieces of a whole. Furthermore, it made sense to me that in order to discover how to grow as a business, we must first understand the factors which may prohibit our growth, or attract criticisms in general.


During this period of preliminary thought, I came across research published by The Legal Services Board which said that the way professional law firms deliver services can often damage trust and client relations due to the perception that they are ‘costly and less accessible in language.’ From here I looked for ways in which Pinsent Masons could be Approachable, Bold and Connected in our response to these shortcomings of the legal profession, to give us a competitive edge and allow us to grow. I decided to research ways in which we could use technology such as IBM’s ‘Watson’ to best utilise lawyers’ time – leading to a more innovative, bold and time/cost efficient way of performing routine tasks; evaluate the nature of our client communications to allow the firm to appear approachable, as well as allowing for a more virtual way of working – a particular benefit to female staff as it removes the dichotomy of family versus career. Finally, I proposed an expansion of our CSR programmes to include a Legal Business Clinic which would be ideal to make connections with smaller businesses in sectors relevant to the firm’s larger clients, as well as allowing connections across the firm to improve as staff work alongside each other in a pro-bono capacity where they usually would not. I felt that each of these solutions fully embraced Pinsent Masons’ Core Values in a cost effective and competitive way, which would allow the firm to grow as a business.

Having been fortunate enough to be selected as the winner of the Julian Tonks Memorial Prize, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Tonks’ son as well as Greg Lowson (Head of the Birmingham office, where I work). This was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the history of the firm, as well as receiving very helpful career advice and encouragement which I will carry forward as my time at Pinsent Masons comes to an end and I continue on to University.

Jessica Shirley is currently looking forward to attending university after gaining solid first hand knowledge of commercial law with a Pinsent Masons gap year placement. To find out more about the gap programme please visit – https://graduate.pinsentmasons.com/programme/gap-programme/