This month's Law Society of Scotland Council member profile: Jackie McRae (new lawyers)

What is your own practice area?

Civil litigation, mainly in family and incapacity law, and some housing law.

What motivates you to get up on a dreary Monday morning?

Being part of a good team, learning something worth knowing every day and getting results. Also, the need to feed my cats.

How long have you been a member of Council and how did you become involved?

I joined in September 2009, so my tenure comes to an end this year. I wanted to get involved in how things work and developing policy to help that happen. I applied to be co-opted on to Council. The process was quite probing. In the end it’s the capacity to listen that is central. Looking ahead, I think we could usefully involve an external representative body in the recruitment of the member for new lawyers.

In what specific capacities have you served (office bearer, committee or other)?

I’ve been a member of the Education and Training Committee from the outset. It’s been a busy but rewarding brief in the run-up to 1 September last year, when large scale reforms to legal education and training were implemented. I also had a spell on the Practising Certificate Committee.

What have been the highlights for you personally?

Taking part in Council’s discussions about the future role of the Society and helping to shape the workplan; contributing to the Society’s roadshows to promote the changes to legal education and training; participating in a panel to accredit a university to provide the new Foundation degree in law. Also, I’ve learned an enormous amount from the established Council members.

How do you keep in touch with the members you represent?

I keep in touch with the SYLA and go to meetings of the TANQ Society based in the Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow. I participate in a reference group for new lawyers which the Law Society set up, and I write occasional articles for New Lawyers News. It is a challenge when your constituency isn’t geographically-based or organised around a particular specialism.

What do you see as the main issues that new lawyers want Council to address at present?

Competition for traineeships and assistants’ posts on qualification is increasingly tough. There are far more people chasing every position. People who don’t fit a traditional profile find it harder and harder to be placed. New lawyers are asking for much more guidance and support from the Society to help them kickstart their career. The Society is working hard to deliver that. The Society should also have a role in analysing supply and demand, so that the profession understands future needs and does some workforce planning. This is routine in other professions such as medicine and teaching. Although commercial factors will impact on demand, the number of Diploma places and traineeships should more closely match future need and demand for lawyers. The risk for students and trainees is now too high.

What do you see as the other main issues that Council has to address at present?

Council could do more to scope the future of legal services and look at different business models for the profession. Discussions often focus on what are perceived to be the competing interests of “big firms”, “traditional high street firms”, and in-house lawyers. New lawyers just want to see a dynamic, forward looking profession which serves its customers well and in which opportunities grow, rather than continue to contract.

Council membership has always been predominantly white, middle class and male. There is a wall of photographs of past Law Society Presidents in Drumsheugh Gardens. Only one photograph is of a woman. There are no black or ethnic minority faces at all. The new lay members who joined Council last year have already made a positive impact. I think we would get better decision making with more diversity.

Are there further changes you would like to see that might improve the way Council works?

Members invest a great deal of personal time on Council business, but meetings can accumulate to mean up to a couple of days out of the office a month. These demands are not readily compatible with being an employed solicitor. My own firm has been generous, but taking time away during office hours may just not be possible for some new lawyers and other employed lawyers. Meetings could be shorter and less frequent.

If you could change only one thing for your members, what would it be?

Our justice system is adversarial but that needn’t translate into how solicitors transact their day-to-day business with one another. At times there is a culture of conflict and disrespect that would not be acceptable in settings outwith the legal profession. For example, hostile legal correspondence intensifies antagonism and anxiety in our clients. Some trainees and new lawyers complain of bullying cultures in their workplaces. The tone of the ABS debate in 2010 did not show the profession in a good light. Resolving disputes requires sound analysis of the law, an aptitude for problem solving and constructive negotiation. Opposing positions can be presented and argued rigorously without rancour.

What are your interests outside the law?

Finding time for my family and friends. I like to be active. I enjoy swimming and running and I recently bought a bicycle, so I’m hoping to do my first triathlon this year. I’m keen on technology and all things Apple. Also since starting a career in law I have been learning to play the piano, three tunes at a time.

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