Faculty’s 'Mini-Devils' gain first-hand experience of the work of an advocate - Barney Ross

13 Feb

Barney Ross, Clerk of the Faculty of Advocates

EVER since the Court of Session was constituted as the College of Justice, the Faculty of Advocates has played a central role in promoting the rule of law and ensuring access to justice for the people of Scotland. It continues to do so today. Our commitment to excellence in advocacy underpins these essential functions. This commitment is maintained by a world-class programme of professional training and education which equips trainee advocates, known as Devils, with the skills necessary to meet our admission requirements before going on to practise at the bar.

Anyone wishing to become an advocate undertakes this training, known as Devilling, over a period of nine months. It includes advocacy skills courses and written and oral assessments. Devils spend a considerable amount of time doing ‘on the job’ training with experienced advocates, known as Devilmasters. To ensure breadth of experience, each devil has at least two Devilmasters, one practising primarily in civil law, and the other in criminal law. 

The training is immersive in nature: a Devil learns by shadowing their Devilmaster in all aspects of their job, such as appearing in Court, drafting written advice or attending consultations or settlement negotiations. 

Advocates acting as Devilmasters do so as a matter of professional obligation, and at no charge to their Devil. When a Devil calls to the bar, they enter into direct professional competition with their erstwhile tutor. However, their Devilmasters remain their first port of call for professional advice and support. For centuries, such relationships have been integral to the collegiate ethos and tradition by which the Faculty of Advocates continues to be sustained today. 

But even the most established of traditions should be open to innovation. Last month, the Dean of Faculty welcomed students from universities across Scotland to a reception in the Advocates’ Library to mark the first day of this year’s ‘Mini-Devilling’ programme. This marked an ambitious expansion of an idea which started life in 2018, when a single student from the University of Strathclyde became our first Mini-Devil. This year, the Faculty welcomed 30 student ‘Mini-Devils’ from across the six universities which offer the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice in Scotland.

‘Mini-Devilling’ provides an opportunity for Diploma students to gain first-hand experience of the work of an advocate. Each student is assigned a junior advocate to be their Mini-Devilmaster. The programme is ably co-ordinated by three advocates, Craig Findlater, Elisabeth Roxburgh and Dominic Scullion, who committed to organising the project alongside their practice at the bar.

Each student will spend one day a week shadowing their Mini-Devilmaster, in very much the same way as would a ‘real’ Devil.  To prevent any financial barriers to entry, the Faculty covers any travel expenses incurred by participation in the scheme. The Mini-Devils are also given a taster of Faculty’s internationally renowned advocacy training programme. They will attend presentations given by senior members of the legal profession, including senior judges. By way of example, they received a presentation from Crown Office led by the Solicitor General followed by one on the work of the criminal defence bar given by Claire Mitchell KC and Shelagh McCall KC. At the end of the course, the students will put their newly acquired skills to the test by participating in a series of ‘mock trials’ under the supervision of Faculty training instructors. 

The Faculty’s future depends upon it attracting people of conspicuous ability and potential, from a diversity of backgrounds. Our engagement with schools, universities and the wider legal profession is absolutely central here. Members of Faculty give their time in support of this strategy, by participating in initiatives such as the UK Mock-Trial competition, the Scottish Mini-Trials project, university mooting competitions, careers events, and our own Faculty Open Day for school pupils. We recently hosted the finals day for a national schools debating competition organised by the educational charity Speak Up Scotland, where students gave memorable speeches from the bar of the Court of Session.

Mini-Devilling is an exciting and innovative project, which we believe will make an important contribution to legal education in Scotland.  We hope that it will inspire and encourage those taking part to consider a career at the bar; and that some of this year’s Mini-Devils will become the Devils and Devilmasters of the future.

This first appeared in The Scotsman here