This month's Council profile turns to Johnstone practitioner Stuart Naismith, one of the two members for Greenock, Kilmarnock and Paisley
What is your own practice area?
I would describe my area of practice today as civil court, business and commercial law, domestic conveyancing, wills and executries. I am the principal solicitor and managing partner of my firm, but I started legal life as a commercial conveyancer.
I trained under the Professor of Conveyancing and so always had a grounding in conveyancing but, I am pleased to say, I evolved from there. I undertook court work to meet the needs of my firm and matters have ebbed and flowed from there. I have done mostly civil work but criminal as well, including jury trials. For 10 years or so I acted for an employers' federation and did a lot of employment law in that period (took one case to the Inner House and probably have been at the EAT 20 times). I must have had at least half a dozen reported cases over the period – one of them a criminal case.
I have done legal aid, private client work, and, as Stirling & Mair are a private client high street practice, I have also done executry work. Such a wide area of professional practice would be impossible now, but that is why I have always enjoyed being a solicitor.
What motivates you to get up on a Monday morning?
Nothing motivates me to get up in the morning – I am a notorious slow starter which I attribute to years of criminal court work when I would have an extra cup of tea at the house and then go straight to court for 10am.
I love my job and I am generally an optimistic and happy person. So for me, a Monday or any other day is one that I am happy to get on with. To give some perspective, I have been able, in the main, to keep my professional life and private life separate. I do what it takes during the week to get the job done so that I don’t work at weekends and I don’t work at home. When the time comes I will be quite happy to skip the work bit. I don’t focus too far ahead – tomorrow is about the limit – and that is not a good quality.
What’s your top tip for new lawyers?
Always listen to the client. Never presume or assume anything. No question is ever stupid. You either know something or you don’t – there is nothing in between. Try to help people. Never lose your idealism (you will because it will be crushed out of you by pragmatism first and then scepticism, but try to hold this off as long as you can). Be proud of your profession and remember that you have just become qualified to join an elite group – perhaps the last remaining profession.
How long have you been a member of Council and how did you become involved?
I’ve been a member of Council since September 2005. I was on one of the client relations committees and signed up for more!
In what specific capacities have you served (office bearer, committee or other)?
I was a member of a client relations committee for a number of years and have been convener of the Access to Justice committee since 2012.
What have been the highlights for you personally?
I think the court closure process and giving evidence to the Justice Committee. That involved some media work on behalf of the Society and I have also done this in relation to employment tribunal fees. I did not achieve much in that, but it highlighted the political process and to my mind points the way that the Society has to move.
We need to engage with politicians, the public and the Government and we have to use the media effectively to achieve this. I am the one at Council who is always saying get the message out there. Tell people what solicitors can do and will do today, tomorrow and every day. This is in the interests of the profession and the public. We have a lot to be proud of, but if we don’t tell people what we do, they won’t know. Our reputation is held high, and has been well earned, but it must not be taken for granted.
How do you keep in touch with members in your constituency?
Email mostly, faculty meetings when possible and interaction with other agents, mostly at court.
What do you see as the main issues that your local members want Council to address at present?
How to promote our economy, and so economically promote high street solicitors. This is quite difficult actually. The Society cannot make our communities more prosperous, it can only help make the admin of running our businesses not unduly onerous (which it has done so far as it can). Increasing legal aid rates would help but I think that applies only to the criminal practitioners. Locally, they are leaving civil legal aid in droves. The Society is working as hard as it possibly can in this regard.
What do you see as the other main issues that Council has to address at present?
The threat to solicitor businesses from multinational companies with big advertising budgets. We cannot halt the change, but it has consequences for access to justice and local communities. We must work with Government to ensure that advice is available to our citizens. That involves training and evolution over time for solicitors. The current business model is unsustainable and heading for market-led reform, I think.
If you could change only one thing for your members, what would it be?
Their approach to the business of the law. Members need to focus on what clients want done for them, rather than getting bogged down in the process. They have to change focus between advice that the client wants, needs and will pay for, and the associated administrative process that the client does not care about, may not even need and will not pay for. To achieve that, members need to work together to minimise that administrative process for professional colleagues.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
My hobbies are golf and curling (one of which I still play competitively), rugby as a spectator and my family, the usual stuff. I am a basically a pretty happy person.