Profile: Robert Rennie
Among many other roles, Emeritus Professor Robert Rennie is a Lawscot Foundation student mentor
What motivated you to study law?
I first became interested in studying law because a cousin of my father worked in local government and I quite fancied it. He worked for one of the very old district councils (Vale of Leven District Council) and was in charge of local parks. He said you could get a diploma in public administration but, as this was in the early 60s, it was better to do a first degree and that if I wanted to rise in local government to, say, county clerk, a law degree was the best.
As I went through the degree it was suggested to me that practice was more lucrative. Amazing salaries of £1,000, even £1,500, a year were quoted. I studied hard and won various prizes and bursaries which were conditional on doing postgrad research, which I did at the same time as my apprenticeship, resulting in a PhD degree in 1972. This gave me the added academic interest.
What do you see as the main issues for new lawyers entering the profession at the moment?
I myself went to Glasgow University from a council house with the benefit of a student grant not just for fees but also for maintenance and books. So I am bound to say I never encountered any particular prejudice because of my “background”. However I do have a concern that given the limitations of student finance now, the intake to the profession tends to be from middle class families and above. This does not just of course apply to the legal profession but other professions such as medicine. I believe that the intake of the profession should be wide and certainly wider than it is. Some students from less advantaged backgrounds need more encouragement and support and that is why I am interested in mentoring.
What has been the most surprising or significant aspect of your career?
I think it has been the split in the solicitors' branch of the profession between large and small firms. When I started there were good all-rounder firms in cities and towns who did everything. They had four or five partners. There were also big city firms with double figure partners, say up to 15 or so. The law became more complex and lawyers needed to specialise. This has had a serious effect on small/medium firms.
What is the best thing about being a mentor?
Mentoring a first year law student has the advantage of keeping me sharp and up to date. We discuss legal issues which arise in all fields of law which are being studied by the student. My mentee and I have discussed matters concerning Brexit, European law, damages for negligence, breaches of contract. These are areas in which I do not practise or at least have not practised in for decades. It does me good to think outwith my area of expertise.
The purpose of mentoring is not to provide additional legal education; it is to boost confidence and I do get a real kick out of seeing my mentee’s confidence in his own ability increasing.
What’s your top tip for someone aspiring to become a lawyer?
I have three tips: aim high and work hard; be prepared to move to find new opportunities; and always keep good records of meetings and telephone calls to better avoid negligence claims.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
My wife and I rescue greyhounds, and we have six grandchildren, which keeps us busy.
Professor Robert Rennie is an Emeritus Professor at Glasgow University and consultant at Harper Macleod. In addition to maintaining a busy legal practice alongside his academic work, he has been a prolific author of articles and textbooks on property law and negligence matters. He is also a member of the Law Society of Scotland’s Property Law Committee.