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President's column

15 April 18

So many rural firms are crying out for solicitors to go and work for them, and take it from me, rural practice can provide a great life as well as a rewarding career

by Graham Matthews

One Monday in March, I went skiing for the first time in 24 years. It was a brilliant sunny day; the slopes were glittering and pristine. But I wasn’t in France, Austria or anywhere abroad. It was an hour from my office at the Lecht. The slopes were empty, no queues, the air was fresh and crisp and I enjoyed the peace and quiet, and best of all no emails requiring a Pavlovian response to the detriment of all else.

We are lucky in Scotland that every city is within around 30 minutes of the countryside and outdoor pursuits. Many of us live in rural locations and commute into the city for work. My commute, by the way, is just eight minutes from rural idyll to local office.

Yet fewer and fewer of our new graduates seem to want what we call “high street” (basically traditional private client) work, let alone the towns and villages of rural Scotland. From Dumfries to Fraserburgh, from Shetland to Argyll, I hear the same plea: “What can the Society do to get young professionals into our community?” At a faculty visit, I joked with a male trainee (a local farmer’s son) that he needed to marry a solicitor for the benefit of his community. He countered that, by marrying a nurse, he thought he’d done his bit. This gave me an idea that the Society should start a dating service for members… I’ll leave that, though, for the member services team to work on!

I’ve met a lot of our younger members who have relocated to London, and I get that they are drawn by the excitement, the vibrancy of the city, the hard work followed by a great social life. Yes, I know you get that in Scotland’s cities too, and I get that a prosecco in the local Wetherspoon’s in rural Scotland hardly competes, but that’s a short-term issue. Long term, where do you want to be? What do you want to do? Rural Scotland is a wonderful place to build your career.

No substitute

Our rural profession provides a lot of employment in local communities where otherwise there might be none. Most rural firms have no difficulty getting admin staff or secretarial support, but without paralegal and solicitor employees, hopefully one day becoming owners, our rural practices will surely wither and disappear.

Where does that leave all the local communities that require access to a solicitor in times of need? The internet, even with Skype, just does not provide the support or reassurance that speaking to a solicitor over a desk will, or convey the professional sympathy and support the bereaved, for example need. Last week I spoke to a solicitor who was refusing to do executry work for his clients of many a year. His partners had retired, leaving him with a safe full of wills built up over decades. He couldn’t get an assistant to relocate from anywhere. He’s too busy to train a trainee properly (yes, they should have trained someone years ago, but would that person have stayed with the bright lights still to be enjoyed?). He, like most of us, was so disappointed to be letting his clients down but recognised, unusually, that trying to cope with so much work could end in complaints, so best to refer it on.

We have this bizarre situation where there is plenty of work in so many areas and not enough solicitors or paralegals to process it. Take it from me that remuneration for many country practitioners can be on a par with the city’s.

If you’re thinking it’s time for a career move, it’s a great time to join a rural practice. Go ski your mountain!

Just an idea...

Finally, I’ve had this thought to raise awareness and maybe some cash for our education charity the Lawscot Foundation. I would like the profession to organise a number of ceilidhs on the same night all over Scotland, with basically identical and synchronised dance lists: for example 8.30pm Gay Gordons, 8.45pm Dashing White Sergeant and so on. The plan being we go for the record of the most people in different locations doing the same dance at the same time. You could organise it for your firm, your faculty or organisation; it doesn’t matter if it’s big or small. Even better if everyone had live music: we have plenty of members playing in ceilidh bands, even in Brussels! If that appeals to you, email me at president@lawscot.org.uk and we’ll see what we can do. You never know who you might meet in a Paul Jones! 

Graham Matthews is President of the Law Society of Scotland – president@lawscot.org.uk; Twitter: @grahamgmatthews

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