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Society blog

30 Aug 17

A paralegal's tale

Janet Rieu-Clarke, the Law Society’s accredited paralegal, explains the path that led her to new role at the Society and the rationale behind the new accredited paralegal status.

30 Aug 17

A call to vote from John Scott

John Scott QC urges his fellow solicitor advocates to vote for their dedicated representative

29 Aug 17

No globalisation without representation...

Katie Hay discusses the globalisation of the legal market and urges Scottish solicitors working internationally, to get involved

24 Jul 17

Bringing the world to "world-class"

Sarah Sutton, digital communications executive at the Law Society of Scotland, talks about her bright idea to ensure international representation on the Society’s Council

26 Jun 17

The Debate - backstage, front of house and top tips

In this mini-series of blogs, three key players in the Donald Dewar Memorial Debating Tournament share their individual perspectives of the event.

19 Jun 17

Got a passion for the profession?

Could one of the 23 current vacancies for 16 different committees be just right for you?

28 Apr 17

Professional Practice - advising the advisers

Scottish solicitors help their clients through some of the most momentous occasions of their lives, personal or professional, good or bad. But where do solicitors turn for support? Prof Prac, that's where.

1 Nov 16

How getting involved in debating can change your life

Head of education Rob Marrs explains how getting involved in debating, whether as competitor or judge, can be incredibly rewarding. And more importantly, he explains how to win a debate.

14 Oct 16

Career development and volunteering at the Law Society of Scotland

If you want to enhance your career, develop your skills or just give back to your profession, there are lots of different personal and professional development opportunities at the Society

4 Oct 16

Going international – a Scots lawyer's week at the IBA

John Morgan, a newly qualified solicitor at Brodies, recently received a scholarship from the International Bar Association to attend its annual conference in Washington DC. He tells of his experience

Society Blog

A call to vote from John Scott

30 Aug 17

John Scott QC urges his fellow solicitor advocates to vote for their dedicated representative

By the time you read this, I am sure that some of my solicitor advocate colleagues will have put themselves forward as candidates for the new Council position approved at the last Law Society of Scotland AGM. I know of at least one excellent candidate who has been a colleague for many years on the committee of the Society of Solicitor Advocates (and who I have agreed to nominate). Assuming there is an impressive field of competition, all that remains is for all solicitor advocates to vote.

This welcome development is another step towards proper recognition of the indispensable role played by solicitor advocates in our modern justice system, particularly in the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary (and the UK Supreme Court). Indeed, even as solicitors, many of us continue to play a substantial role in the administration of justice in our sheriff courts and tribunals. Some of our colleagues grace Crown Office, even at the highest level.

Comparisons are unnecessary to extol our strengths, experience and advantages. We have an informal collegiality, promoted well beyond individual firms, and experienced by those in need of assistance or a word of advice. We have a modern outlook which balances ethical considerations with increasingly (and rightly) demanding clients, informed by training and experience with a focus on getting the best outcome without unnecessary delay and inconvenience.

We understand only too well the demands placed on solicitors, because we are solicitors. Very many firms now opt for a solicitor advocate in High Court cases, as do many clients when their choices are fully explained to them. I, and others, do most of our work for other firms. Some solicitor colleagues retain a historical allegiance elsewhere, a situation one explained to me by saying that recent developments encouraged him to think that the court continues to have an issue with solicitor advocates.

I understand the concern, and certain unsuccessful Anderson appeals may give an unfortunate impression, but I can honestly say that I have never experienced it myself. There is a wider concern about standards but that applies across the board. The court rightly expects excellence from all pleaders. It is still disappointed too often, and we will all have witnessed that, but I believe that we can offer excellence.

Disappointment in standards takes many forms. Sadly, we still hear far too frequently of late withdrawal by counsel whose diaries are kept overfull, seemingly to ensure that they are always employed, regardless of the impact on accused persons and instructing solicitors. As solicitors, we understand what it is like to explain the ensuing last-minute change of key personnel to a baffled client whose confidence is badly dented. The court has rightly given special attention to ensuring client choice of counsel (solicitor advocate or advocate), but so far nothing much has been done to address the few whose grasp for work exceeds their capacity to complete it.

The Society of Solicitor Advocates (SSA) has always emphasised training as key to excellence in advocacy. We are not shy in stating that our combination of experience and training mean that we can offer an outstanding service to anyone who needs representation in our highest courts. The Law Society of Scotland AGM passed a change to CPD requirements for solicitor advocates which, when approved by the Lord President, will mean that 10 of our 20 hours will have to relate to advocacy relevant to the exercise of rights of audience. This can only lead to further improvements.

Much has changed in the 30 years since I first appeared in court, and indeed in the 16 years since I first appeared in the High Court. More change is coming, including further developments in relation to how the best evidence is obtained (and tested) from children and vulnerable witnesses. The SSA aims to be involved at the heart of such changes. In October, for example, I will chair a major Law Society of Scotland conference on such evidence, which is to be addressed by the Lord Justice Clerk and other experts in that field.

Until now, there have been complaints from many that the Law Society is too remote from the relatively small number of solicitor advocates (now around 350). My own experience is that the Society has tried to ensure its knowledge of, and relevance to, solicitor advocates, especially by continuing contact with the SSA. This important relationship stretches back even before the time of the Thomson Report in 2010 (sadly still gathering dust).

The AGM change, mentioned at the start, will assist in addressing any concerns because solicitor advocates now have the opportunity to vote for a Law Society of Scotland Council member specifically dedicated to issues of relevance to solicitor advocates. That person can act as a conduit between our regulator and the SSA, as well as others. Ideally, the successful candidate (I have not yet seen the list) will have substantial experience of the practice and politics of solicitor advocacy. Another voice for solicitor advocates, and hopefully an especially attuned pair of ears. I look forward to working with them.

I urge all solicitor advocates to vote – doing so could not be easier (as long as you can remember or find your LSS login details). I also ask you to consider joining the SSA, if you are not already a member. Together, we can seek more of a say in our own future, as well as that of the administration of justice. While membership of the College of Justice seems to have been fixed a few hundred years ago, my view is that we are, in effect, honorary members and should simply act as members anyway – perhaps in another few hundred years, another stone tablet will be carved to reflect that modern reality.

John Scott QC is President of the Society of Solicitor Advocates

Blog archive

9 Jan 18

Hold tight for 2018

Get set for another rollercoaster ride through the year

4 Dec 17

Trends and revelations

From the Journal employment survey: sexual harassment must be taken seriously

9 Nov 17

Mergers and markets

After the Maclays-Dentons merger, what now for the independent Scottish legal firm?

9 Oct 17

For the greater good

The profession should support those who attempt to improve the lot of the most vulnerable

11 Sep 17

Brexit and the legal order

Government recognition of the need to continue civil judicial cooperation with EU countries after Brexit is welcome, but how can it exclude the involvement of the CJEU?

7 Aug 17

Taking access to justice seriously

The House of Lords decision on employment tribunal fees elevates this constitutional principle

10 Jul 17

Advance of the courts

There is momentum behind civil procedure reform, and practitioners need to be alert to have their say

12 Jun 17

Defend our rights

Don't sacrifice rights to combat terrorism; welcome to Edinburgh for the UK Supreme Court

8 May 17

Review time

Patience will be needed as regards the outcome of the new review of legal services regulation, but there is much for the profession to concern itself with meantime

10 Apr 17

Complaints about the Commission

It is not surprising that solicitors are complaining about the SLCC budget and levy – but what should be done?