Profile: Heather McKendrick
Heather McKendrick is head of Careers and Outreach at the Law Society of Scotland; her projects include the debating tournament, career mentoring and Street Law
Tell us a bit about your career so far…
I studied law but by the time I graduated I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I was fortunate to be offered a position as a legal assistant working for the Judicial Studies Committee (now the Judicial Institute). This sparked an interest in legal education, and in 2009 I started at the Society in the Education & Training team. I started by providing advice and information to school pupils and “new lawyers” – students, trainees and NQ solicitors, and developing projects and events to support this group. Since then however the role has acquired a wider remit, including focusing on social mobility within the legal profession, and establishing the Lawscot Foundation.
What motivated you to study law?
I liked the idea that it was topical and you would be able to study a wide range of subjects. Beyond that, I had no idea what to expect – I didn’t really know anyone working in the legal profession, so I suppose it was a leap of faith! However it gave me a great grounding and I’m always glad I did choose it.
Have your perceptions of the Society changed since you started?
As soon as I started at the Society I was struck by how friendly the place is, and this hasn’t changed. Over the years here, there has been a definite focus on innovation and supporting our members, and it helps to make it a positive and friendly place to work.
What have been the highlights for you personally?
Introducing the Street Law programme has been brilliant – we started with a pilot working with five schools in 2014, and now work with around 50 schools across Scotland. The pupils love it, and it’s great to hear it has inspired some of them to consider a career in law. More recently, supporting the first eight students on the Lawscot Foundation has been a highlight. For many of them, the bursary and the mentor are the crucial difference between them having a career in law and not, and to be part of an organisation making a profound difference to people’s lives is humbling.
What do you see as the main issues for new lawyers and the Scottish legal profession at the moment?
I think a big issue will be around legal technology and how equipped solicitors are to embrace the changes this will bring, and make the most of the opportunities. This will include the education and training of solicitors and no doubt will lead to big changes about the way solicitors work in the future.
What has been the most surprising aspect of your work at the Society?
I’m continually surprised by how generous people are with their time and how passionate people are about making a difference when they can. There are a number of social mobility champions at firms and organisations, who are challenging the way things are done, and it’s leading to change across the sector. People really care about ensuring the legal profession is as fair and diverse as possible, and are keen to help wherever possible.
What’s your top tip for new lawyers?
I read somewhere that we all spend longer planning a holiday than we do our whole career! I think we are all guilty of that, but if possible, take some time to think about where you want to get to, and how you might get there – and enjoy it along the way!
If you could change only one thing for new lawyers, what would it be?
I’d love for talent and ability to be central to becoming a lawyer. I have concerns that outstanding people are missed because they are facing financial difficulties while they study, or because they can’t take the time out of their jobs to undertake vacation schemes. There’s no easy answer to this, as it’s a complex issue, but there are positive steps that can be taken. I’d love access to the profession to be as fair as possible.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
I have a two year old daughter who keeps me more than busy. Usually when she’s meant to be sleeping!