Promoting career possibilities at the Scottish Bar

24 Feb

Senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh Law School Dr Jonathan Hardman, University of Edinburgh Director of Student Experience Lindsay Jack, Founder of Diversity+ Naeema Sajid, Clerk of Faculty Barney Ross, Chair of the Mental Health Tribunal Laura Dunlop KC, Advocate Mary Ellen Stewart, devil Bilaal Shabbir, and Advocate Dominic Scullion.


A CAREER as an advocate is open to anyone with the necessary ability and motivation.

So said the Clerk of the Faculty of Advocates Barney Ross, who joined other Faculty members at a ‘Becoming an advocate’ panel discussion at the University of Edinburgh’s Law School earlier this week. The discussion was chaired by Laura Dunlop KC, Chair of the Mental Health Tribunal, and the other panellists were advocates Elisabeth Roxburgh, Dominic Scullion and Mary Ellen Stewart, and devil Bilaal Shabbir.

The panel discussion formed part of the programme at the university’s Festival of Legal Possibilities, hosted by the law school and sponsored by Diversity+, a consultancy that specialises in increasing diversity and inclusion in the legal sector. The festival aimed to highlight the various career paths open to law students as well as reach those who might feel unrepresented in current mainstream legal recruiting.

“Participating in events such as the Festival of Legal Possibilities forms an important part of Faculty’s ongoing work to encourage people from a diversity of backgrounds to consider a career at the Bar,” said Mr Ross. While it was natural to feel anxious about becoming self-employed as an advocate, those who successfully navigated the Faculty’s training programme, worked hard and displayed good interpersonal skills could look forward to a successful and fulfilling career, he said.

His comments were echoed by Mr Scullion, who added that there was “no cap to the number of people who can call to the Bar – those who pass the required exams are all eligible.” Mr Scullion also drew attention to the Faculty’s scholarship programmes, aimed at removing barriers to membership of the Scottish Bar for those with the skills and motivation to practice as advocates. Applicants must demonstrate sufficient ability to merit an award, but greater weighting was given to those in financial need or to those from groups currently under-represented.

Commenting on what advice she would offer students moving into the legal profession Ms Dunlop stressed the need to build and maintain professional relationships in the workplace. “Go into the office as much as you can. You will learn an enormous amount by being around other lawyers. The very fact of being in the office and sharing news – whether good or bad – is all part of being human.”

Touching on the many advantages of being an advocate, Ms Roxburgh said being self-employed meant advocates had greater freedom of choice with regard to which particular areas of law they wished to specialise in. This ability to manage their workload coupled with the shift to hybrid working due to the pandemic also meant advocates with young children enjoyed greater flexibility in determining their work/life balance. While gender parity had not yet been reached in many sectors of the legal profession, the number of female solicitors was increasing, said Ms Stewart, adding that “we are seeing more women at the Bar than in previous years.”

Other changes effected by the pandemic included an increasing reliance on technology, which had seen many paper-based processes move online, said Mr Shabbir. “Technology has made a big difference to how legal professionals work now.”

The panel agreed there was no singular route to becoming an advocate – with some Faculty members having switched careers to call to the Bar. More information on becoming an advocate can be found here.