Section 25A(4) allows the Law Society of Scotland to make rules setting out inter alia training requirements and regulating the manner in which the applicant’s knowledge of practice, procedure and professional conduct may be demonstrated. The current rules set out are those of 1992, the 1995 “Rules” not being in force. The procedure can be broadly divided into five parts: Application; Sitting in; Exams; Training course; Introduction ceremony.
To obtain the application forms the first point of contact is Lisa Anderson at the Law Society of Scotland, 26 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh, EH3 7YR, Tel 0131 476 8164.
When you submit your application you will require to demonstrate that you have sufficient experience and that you are a fit and proper person. Therefore even before you receive the application forms it is well worth while going through your diaries, files old and new, computerised ledgers etc to put together a list of all those cases you have participated in and detailing the nature and level of your involvement. You will be required to produce this list with your application and it can take some time to prepare.
In advance of receiving the form you should consider whom you wish to act as referees, these should be people who can vouch to your performance in court and speak to you being a fit and proper person. It is suggested that you have one personal referee who can speak to your character and at least one judicial referee, such as a sheriff. Most sheriffs appear to be happy to assist, especially if you have recently appeared before them. Partners, current employers and clients are not appropriate as referees.
Once you have the names of your referees and your list of cases you should complete the application form and send it together with your application fee (£250 for one or £400 for both civil and criminal).
At this stage it is worth while clarifying with the Society whether or not they think that the documentation supplied is sufficient; if it is not then you will be asked for more information. As the rights of audience panel make a recommendation to the Council whether or not the application can proceed, and these bodies meet relatively infrequently, if your application is knocked back for lack of information then it could be three or four months before it can be considered again. This could mean you missing the next diet of examinations and increasing the time lag between applying and qualifying. If you have any queries you should contact Bruce Ritchie at the Law Society of Scotland (Tel: 0131 476 8124).
When returning your application ask when it will be considered and when the next diet of examinations is as you will require to complete your sitting in before the exams.
If your application is accepted and approved you will be sent a sitting in record card; currently the requirement is eight days Outer House and four days Inner House for civil rights and six days for criminal rights. This can be reduced or dispensed with if, on making your application, you can convince the panel that you have sufficient experience in those courts as an instructing solicitor. However, it is likely that when the new rules are promulgated the requirement to sit in will be dispensed with for criminal rights and reduced to six days for civil rights.
It is difficult to arrange time out of the office to sit in, accordingly the longer the period between your application being accepted and the next diet of exams the easier it will be, especially if you have to travel to Edinburgh.
Try to pick the cases in advance. The rolls of court are now published on the Internet free of charge (www.scotcourts.gov.uk/rolls); have a look at them and decide what might be interesting. Check who is appearing; there is little benefit in watching those more junior than yourself unless you enjoy spotting their mistakes.
When you sit in this will be organised by the SSC library staff. You should contact the designated individual as soon as possible to confirm the dates and time when you can attend as it will make it more likely that a copy of the pleadings, reclaiming print or grounds of appeal, etc will be available for you when you arrive.
At the end of the day’s sitting in make sure that the clerk of court signs your attendance card. It may feel like being back at school but without his or her signature you might as well not have been there.
Currently these are divided into two papers on the same day; there are separate exams for civil and criminal rights. The first paper is practice and pleading. That paper is open book, which means only published materials and not your own notes and styles. The professional conduct paper is not open book and you should memorise the code of conduct and rules of precedence. These should be sufficient to see you through.
Do ask the Society for copies of all past papers. Practise answering the questions. Also you may find that it is possible to question spot. It may seem obvious, but study for the exams. Most people have been studying for months and some take holidays prior to the exams in order to concentrate on studying. Keep up to date by reading the published law reports and various journals: topical issues are used for examination questions. Know your examiner: find out who might be setting the paper and what his or her favourite topics are, and read his or her book or articles if published.
If you prepare for the exams you will find them straight-forward although you will be pushed for time in the open book exam.
It is well worth clarifying well in advance who is going to pay for it as it can cost around £1,500 for the civil course and £1000 for the criminal course. The cost depends upon the number of candidates.
It may be that the format will be changed in years to come. The criminal course concentrates on the presentation of appeals and deals with the documentation for an appeal as well as presenting an appeal.
On the civil course you will receive various lectures and presentations. However, there is a heavy emphasis on oral skills and the drafting of documents such as summonses, counterclaims, petitions and grounds of appeal. You will be asked to prepare and present an appeal using a reported decision. Generally you are given a difficult case to argue and it will require to be presented before a real Lord Ordinary and at least one senior advocate. During that presentation you will be tested to see how you respond to the unexpected, such as judicial criticism and questions. You will be apprehensive; overcoming this is part of the test.
After the training course the course convener and the assessors will discuss your performance and make a recommendation to the panel, who then make a recommendation to the Council. On completing the course and the appropriate recommendation having been accepted you will be notified of the date for the introduction ceremony. There may be different days for civil and criminal practitioners.
This is the bit where you have your photograph taken so that your lovely visage can be printed in The Journal in order that your enemies can put it on their dart board and your colleagues rib you for months about your haircut, suit, glaikit look, etc.
The ceremony is short and to the point. You will be asked to meet at the SSC coffee room, move from there to a court, take the oath of allegiance before a Lord Ordinary and subscribe your name on the roll. Thereafter it’s the photo opportunity and off for a short meeting with the Lord President.
Since the introduction of Section 25A there has been a slow trickle of solicitors seeking rights of audience. Regrettably, few of the civil practitioners seem to exercise their rights regularly. At the moment criminal practitioners lead the way on appearances. Who knows, you could change all that.