Profile: Nicola Johnstone
Nicola Johnstone is one half of the Society’s Research team, whose projects include Profile of the Profession, social return on legal aid, vulnerable accused, traineeships, Brexit, and mental health
Tell us about your career so far?
I enjoyed my traineeship at Balfour + Manson, which focused on litigation. I was involved in a variety of work, including being the trainee note-taker during the Court of Session case of Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board. Whilst the issue was important to the family involved, I couldn’t have imagined that it would go to the Supreme Court and become a landmark decision.
I qualified and worked as a litigation solicitor before moving to the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry. My role at the inquiry covered witnesses, research, reviewing documents and evidence provided to the inquiry, including my first foray into the world of AI through the training of our document management system to sift through a huge number of documents, and considering issues of legal professional privilege.
The role at the Society caught my attention as it seemed a little different again. The ability to understand the profession and the issues that affect it and to influence positive change seemed intriguing. That was three years ago next month.
Did your perceptions of the Society change when you started?
Yes. As a solicitor in practice, it can be difficult to see the Society as more than just a regulator. But it is so much more. As the research team and my role were relatively new when I started, I was offered the opportunity to shape and build what we do and how we do it. I have loved this challenge and have grasped the opportunity with both hands.
What have been the highlights for you personally?
In terms of our recent projects, I am particularly proud of our Profile of the Profession research. Cross-team colleagues and I spent many months delivering this research, which gives us a rare opportunity to hear the profession’s thoughts on equality, progression, the nature of the profession and experiences within it. It won best project at our recent colleague awards and has been nominated for Best Membership Initiative by an Association at the Association Excellence Awards 2019. It would be great to see changes that benefit colleagues in the profession through this project and our action plan for the next five years.
What do you see as the main issues for solicitors at the moment?
The differences in opinions on the recommendations from Esther Roberton in her report on the Independent Review of Legal Services and working out how to bring opinions together so that reform is possible.
I think another big issue will be around legal technology and how we equip solicitors to embrace this change so that they can continue to provide the best service possible to their clients.
What has been the most surprising aspect of your work at the Law Society?
The breadth of work that I am involved in from a research perspective with colleagues across the organisation, from education, training and qualification, member services, registrars and regulation on every topic imaginable that relates to the law, our profession or the public!
What’s your top tip for new lawyers?
Take every opportunity that is available to you and get involved both in your professional and private life. You never know what will pique your interest and you may end up following an unexpected path.
If you could change only one thing for members, what would it be?
Work-life balance (at least some of the time). Solicitors face huge challenges in managing client expectations and still providing a great service, and balancing this can impact our physical and mental health. It is important to take time for ourselves and our families and friends.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
I love travelling (and aim to visit at least one new country or city every year), my garden, walking, and experimenting in the kitchen.