Engaging with schools and universities to inspire the next generation

05 Jul

Richard Pugh, Clerk of Faculty

THE Faculty of Advocates recently admitted 28 new members, the second-largest ever annual intake. This follows another large intake in 2020, when 24 new advocates were admitted.

Admission to the public office of advocate marks the beginning of a career at the Scottish Bar. These new members of the Faculty will represent litigants in cases across Scotland, including in the High Court of Justiciary and the Court of Session. Covid-19 backlogs persist, and they will make a welcome contribution to ensuring access to justice during a particularly busy time for Scottish courts. 

Many factors have contributed to this rise in interest in a career at the Bar, but one factor stands out: a much-improved range of scholarships made available to trainee advocates (devils) in recent years. Funded in part by direct contributions from Faculty members, these additional scholarships promote diversity and inclusion. Alongside other long-standing scholarships, they help ease some financial pressures faced by aspiring advocates undertaking the mandatory nine-month period of devilling.

The enhanced offering also serves to underscore a key message from the Faculty: we want people from diverse backgrounds to come to the Bar, to truly reflect the population of Scotland.

But devilling is only the last step to becoming an advocate. It follows years of study. We recognise the need to engage earlier when aspiring advocates are still at school or university.

After a pause due to the pandemic, we will, later this year, reintroduce our Faculty Open Day for school pupils from S4 upwards interested in a legal career - to give insights into the Bar and on how to follow their ambition. It will take place at Parliament House, home to the Court of Session, and include seminars and workshops with practising advocates, where students can learn essential skills.

We also support various school-based programmes to give young people an opportunity to develop skills, while promoting diversity and inclusion. Among these is Speak Up Scotland, a training programme which brings debating to state schools in under-resourced areas. Through workshops and a national competition day, S1, S2, and S3 pupils are challenged to think strategically, speak persuasively, and engage confidently.

Over and above the financial contribution through the scholarships administered by the Faculty, our members also give time to act as judges and mentors at mooting competitions like those run by universities and organisations such as Young Citizens. In these competitions, students are given legal problems so they can argue the law against their counterparts in universities and schools across the UK.

Competitions like these encourage students to engage and build confidence, and their understanding of and interest in the law. A recent example saw schoolchildren, students and legal professionals stage a mock trial in Renfrewshire to mark the 90th anniversary of Donoghue v Stevenson, a Scottish case that, to this day, shapes the law of negligence across the common law world.

The Faculty also promotes careers at the Bar at law careers fairs at Scottish universities. Members spend time on campus to answer questions from interested students. Our doors are open to law students: a group from the University of Dundee joined us this year in Parliament House to explore the inner workings of the Bar, and we also welcomed a visit by four US scholars from the Pegasus Trust, which enables talented young lawyers from other countries to gain work experience in the UK.

Finally, we are this year looking to expand our mini-devilling programme. Set up in 2018 between the Faculty and the University of Strathclyde, this enables Diploma in Legal Practice students to shadow advocates over a number of weeks, in and out of court, to see how a career at the Bar might suit them. The Faculty has recently appointed co-ordinators so that mini-devilling can be rolled out to all Scottish diploma providers in the very near future.

So the 28 devils who called to the Bar last month are not only taking the next step in their careers, they are joining a collegiate organisation that actively supports younger members of our wider community who aspire to become advocates. Along with the rest of the Faculty, I look forward to working with and supporting them.

This article first appeared in The Scotsman.