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Book reviews

17 July 17

Reviews of Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 Annotated; Commercial Awareness for Lawyers (Todd and Sim)

by David J Dickson (review editor), Tom Johnston

Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 Annotated

PUBLISHER: W GREEN
ISBN: 978-0414061484
PRICE: Hard copy/Proview £100; combined £130

The annotated statutes from Greens are invaluable. As always this edition is impeccably updated with recent legislation. The annotations are informative, accurate and updated.

The economics of legal practice can be precarious, but it causes one to pause when practitioners either do not have a copy or have outdated copies of legislation. All this can be avoided by turning to the online version (“Proview” is Thomson Reuters' recently developed online platform for e-books, available for android, Mac, PCs and iPad). The text is the same as in the hard copy. However, the online version is superbly easy to navigate. There is an impressive search facility highlighting the search term, making it effortless to identify the relevant provision (handy in a busy court or quick research). The annotations appear with relevant sections, with authorities and related legislation within the annotations hyperlinked. One can annotate, highlight, copy and paste, print and email.

One particularly useful option is the ability to view the contents list in layers, which eases navigation through the text. For example, within the legislation one goes to the part, then sections, and then moves around within that through subsections. It is an impressive and effective format. As to pricing, the online version is slightly less expensive than the combined package.

David J Dickson

Commercial Awareness for Lawyers

Andrew Todd and Iain Sim

PUBLISHER: W GREEN
ISBN: 978-0414055971
PRICE: Hard copy/Proview £45; combined £59

For generations the Scottish solicitor was often referred to as the “man o’ business”. Sadly, in more recent times we have lost that mantle to the more commercially savvy accountancy profession. Whisper it, but we have deserved to. It took me a long time (including an eye-opening spell as a member of the Law Society of Scotland's Council) to realise that the average Scottish solicitor is innumerate, typically having excelled at English, at languages or at history, but avoiding maths and science. The problem is that if you can’t understand figures you can’t read a P&L account. How many can even explain the difference between a balance sheet and a cashflow projection, let alone interpret them?

I was therefore greatly encouraged to learn of the publication of this book. In their introduction, the authors, an in-house lawyer to a building company, and a company director and visiting lecturer at Strathclyde University, make it clear that the book is written “for students, trainees and new lawyers”. It is intended “to be read as a series of 'useful chats' around common events that will happen to you as you start working”.

They identify three strands to commercial awareness: knowing what it means to be a lawyer, knowing your clients and knowing how to run a business and make money. I remain to be convinced by this definition, but let it pass as a starting point. I was much less convinced by some of the chapter headings, such as how to open files and how to write engagement letters; however, after reading more I had to withdraw my misgivings. Within these sections there was much excellent advice on how to avoid some common pitfalls and how to deal with complaints. Is this commercial awareness? Judge for yourself – it certainly falls within their definition. The chapter on time management is excellent, as is the section on networking, which falls within anyone’s definition.

The “useful chats” involve imagining a solicitor at various stages of his or her development and looking at the challenges which may be faced. Getting the basics right is stressed, as is the importance of good English. Unfortunate then to see a reference to the “center” of Stirling, or to learn that the Discipline Tribunal has power to remove your ”practicing” certificate. Some of the English is pretty clunky, too. We are told that “clients want to know how much they’ll be charged in advance”. Not, apparently, a reference to upfront fees, simply a plea for clarity as to the likely fee. I lost count of the number of times the word “who” was used instead of “whom “– perhaps I’m just a pedant – but I did find this odd in a book containing a section on the importance of language.

I would wager that neither author has been a litigator. I winced at the description of the work carried out by the criminal bar as “defending criminals”. On the other hand I laughed out loud at the stated difference between the practice of civil and criminal clients. Sometimes, we are told, you have to give the latter news that they don’t want to hear, the inference being that this does not happen in civil work!

Part 4 contains more of what I expected, with three “How To” chapters – Speak to Clients About Finance, Understand Financial Accounts, and Manage Cash. The last is excellent. The first is just a simple summary of the different types of investment currently available. The real howler comes in the middle, which contains a worked example of a balance sheet. In one sense this is the most simple of all financial statements: Capital = Assets – Liabilities. I was more than a little surprised to see two headings in the capital section (for a fictitious legal firm): Drawings, and Profit and Loss account. Drawings will be shown in an individual capital account, but not in a balance sheet. And what is the relevance of the latter heading? I showed this page to a friend who is a very senior chartered accountant. He smiled indulgently, thinking it to be a student error. When I told him it was from a book teaching lawyers to be commercially aware, he guffawed, rubbing his hands at how far behind we lag.

How well have Messrs Todd and Sim succeeded? Being positive, there are some very good things to be found within the book’s covers, but overall this is a work which is thoroughly inconsistent and riddled with errors, some serious.

Tom Johnston, Ormidale Licensing Services

 

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