Vice president's address to in-house lawyers: Scots lawyers need no longer be inward looking

The recession is hitting the profession hard, but it will not last forever and it is still the time to talk of opportunity, the Society’s Vice President Ian Smart told the In-house Lawyers Group.

Speaking at the AGM and Symposium held on 21 November, the Vice President added that we are also in a period of unique change, one which opens up new possibilities for Scots trained lawyers. Scotland, he explained, had historically had advantages with its expertise in vocational education: its training of doctors and engineers, for example, was recognised worldwide. And while it used to be regarded as not possible for Scots lawyers to export their skills in this way, that was no longer the case.

“We are operating increasingly in a harmonised legal environment”, he asserted. With 50% of our new law now emanating from the EU, combined with the impact of the European Convention on Human Rights, “the opportunity is there with a Scottish qualification to practise on the world stage”. Combining the Scots’ advantages of a reputation for probity, having English as their language, and the quality of life in Scotland with its natural environment, Scotland was well placed to compete. It was admittedly a big disadvantage being next door to the English system with its commercial code and courts, but in banking, insurance, oil, gas and renewable energy we were legally at the forefront.

The Society’s role, he added, was to provide the external environment that helped the profession to flourish and added value to its activities. How? By modernising the education and training of the profession, supporting speedy and effective resolution of complaints, working with the Scottish Government to promote Scotland as the jurisdiction of choice, and supporting a regulatory model fit for the profession in the 21st century. Most importantly, it had to try and engage with Scottish civil society to achieve these ends.

In doing so, he concluded, the Society had to rely on the trust and support of its members, and interest groups like the ILG were important in that process.

Earlier, ILG chair Janet Hood in her address called on members to engage more fully with the wider profession, to explain their role to those who did not understand, and achieve the “synergy” that comes when you know the people on the other side of a transaction. Network, be involved in your local faculties, take part in law fairs, promote any opportunities for trainees, she urged – and contact ILG committee members with your ideas for what they should be doing. “We have a really keen committee, but we need to know what you think in order to keep the group vibrant and alive.”

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