Esperanza Fuentes: Head Judge

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 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, professionally and expertly delivered. 

Barbara Hamilton-BruceBarbara is Head of Client and Business Operations for Simmons & Simmons Solutions Limited.

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 combined legal study with legal practice, qualifying as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives in 2003. 

Barbara is an Apprenticeship Supervisor helping support the next generation of CILEX lawyers to meet their career aspirations.

Helen Opie

Helen Opie is Chief Executive of the Surrey Law Society, a membership organisation of over 800 legal practitioners and law firms in the county of Surrey.  Helen is responsible for the management of the Society, including the conception and delivery of its training programme, coordination of social events, membership recruitment and retention and sponsorship strategy.

In 2008, Helen conceived the SLS Legal Awards alongside President at the time, James Scozzi.  The event was born to recognise the exceptional legal talent across the county and now in its 5th year, has grown to be the Society’s flagship event, attracting nominations across 12 award categories and 250 attendees to the annual gala dinner and presentation ceremony.  

Prior to joining the Surrey Law Society, Helen had a number of roles organising high-profile events for various sectors, including large international summits for Heads of State and Senior Ministers operating in Defence and Foreign Affairs.

Hugh Anderson McKnight

Hugh Anderson McKnight is Director of Learning and Business Development at CLT Scotland, part of The University of Law. In this role, he leads the CLT Scotland team and oversees Specialist Paralegal Qualifications across the UK.

With over 25 years of experience in human resource development, Hugh has managed training functions and projects across Europe and Asia. He has a research interest in professional competence and presented his 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 Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

James Buchan

James is an experienced solicitor specialising in trusts and taxation, with an excellent reputation in the field.

Currently head of Estate Planning within Which? - the UK consumer champion - overseeing the provision of guidance and assistance to our members, via our legal team, and also our online will and power or attorney business.  Prior to joining Which? James worked within the banking sector, and also has experience of practising in ABS style organisations, as well as traditional law firms.

James also has extensive operational management experience, including developing talent.

Leila Choudry

Leila has background of working for the Law Society, investigating issues of poor service and misconduct for over seven years and then providing compliance advice and assistance direct to the Legal Profession since 2011 via her own Legal Compliance Consultancy.

Leila is a Law Society Accredited Advanced Risk and Compliance Practitioner, Law Society trained Lexcel Consultant and a Fellow of the Institute of Paralegals. In addition, Leila sits as a Presiding Justice at the Family Magistrate Court on the Birmingham and Solihull bench and is a local Councillor.

Rachel Tombs

Rachel was a solicitor for 13 years before setting up her own business, Orion Legal Marketing. She helps lawyers attract and retain clients so they can grow their legal firms. Since its inception, Rachel has been an avid advocate for the National Paralegal Awards, sitting as a judge and supporting the previous Institute of Paralegals and Professional Paralegal Register and more recently CILEX with its marketing.

She has worked with over 500 businesses and law firms, delivering bespoke and effective marketing and business development campaigns. Her knowledge of the legal sector means she can offer proven, reliable advice that makes a measurable and substantial difference using both on and offline marketing tools. 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 several legal publications, including the Solicitors Journal, Counsel Magazine, Sole Practitioners Group Journal, SOLO magazine and CILEx Regulation. 

Rebecca Kennedy

Rebecca’s career in the legal sector took off at the age of 17 as a debt recovery administrator. Following this, in 2014 she began her time as a paralegal, where she specialised in non-contentious construction law.

After working in this area of law for over 6 years, Rebecca is now a paralegal manager within Pinsent Masons’ newly developed Paralegal Centre of Excellence.

The PCoE was launched in July 2021 and now consists of over 100 paralegals who work across all practice areas within the firm. Rebecca focusses on the Banking & Restructuring, Insurance, Regulation & Products, Pensions and Projects teams in particular, and was also shortlisted as a finalist for the Birmingham Law Society ‘Paralegal of the Year’ award 2018 and 2020.

Shak Inayat

Shak Inayat is dual qualified with the SRA and FCA as a Solicitor and a certified mortgages, protections and equity release specialist respectively. The two skill sets enable the delivery of sophisticated legal solutions dovetailed with financial planning objectives to ensure that the outcomes achieve client’s optimum long-term goals.

Shak served with HM Reserves (Army) for many years, some of which were served as an All Arms Commando. Shak enjoys running half marathons now for charity.

Stephen Ward

Stephen Ward is the Business Development Director and co-founder of The Barrister Group.

He has been an advocate for improved access to justice and the use of technology at the Bar for over 20 years. The Barrister Group's specialist and other practice groups are supported by multiple award-winning systems, including Chambers 365 and embracing the potential of AI to further improve access to justice and the level of services provided to its current and future barrister members. 

Victoria McCloudVictoria is a British Lawyer and former judge and was the youngest Master in the High Court of Justice, when appointed in 2006 as a deputy and then as a full judge in 2010. 

In 2016 Victoria began consulting with professionals working in the historic abuse field, hoping to improve the experience of justice for victims as well as for defendants and insurers, founding the Historic Abuse Lawyers' forum (HALF).