A preview of the year ahead for the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association, in light of a recent survey of members’ concerns

It was certainly an interesting time to be a young lawyer in Scotland in 2015, and 2016 promises to be another eventful time for the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association (SYLA).   

We recently had the opportunity to speak to our membership through the SYLA BIG Survey, launched in autumn 2015. This is an independent survey of more than 2,000 young lawyers spread across Scotland, and accordingly offers an insight into the pulse of what the future of the profession is interested in, and concerned about.

Three major trends emerged from the BIG Survey, which will shape the course of 2016 for SYLA.  

In-house aspirations

First, the flight to in-house appears to remain one of the major career aspirations of young lawyers. With comparatively few traineeships offered in-house compared to private practice (a statistic the In-house Lawyers Group is admirably trying to improve), the opportunity to head in-house often appears between years one to eight post-qualification. 

With this in mind, it was perhaps unsurprising that more than 70% of our membership responses indicated a desire for more events focused on how to make that shift, and how to sustain their development once there. Career progression generally remains a topic of concern for young lawyers, with many also seemingly left wondering whether the increase in numbers of new solicitor entrants over the last decade leaves the pyramid structure of the profession too bottom heavy. 

Desire for efficiency

A second trend emerged, a desire for more focused training and guidance on the impact of the civil court reforms heralded by the advent of the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. With the new all-Scotland Personal Injury Court now open and rules now regularly being published for the new world, it is perhaps expected that the shifting court landscape and how to navigate it is high on the agenda for Scotland’s young lawyers.

The responses indicated that with change comes an opportunity to influence practice, and the use of technology within the court system continues to be a focus for young lawyers. The theme which emerged is that there is a lot more we can be doing now, even without seismic structural investment, to create more efficiency in the existing structure. As we have in previous years, we’ll be picking up again with the Lord President’s office to share some of the ideas of the young lawyers on this theme in early 2016.

Stress factor

The third trend is no less surprising, but perhaps one that hitherto gets less attention within the profession, the impact of stress and workload pressure upon the long-term physical and mental wellbeing of young lawyers. The results of the survey suggest the future of the profession is both (i) increasingly concerned about prospects for progression and sustainability of current business structures; and (ii) simultaneously concerned about the long-term impact of the lifestyle many young lawyers devote themselves to, in order to guarantee that career progression later down the track. We’ll be working more closely with LawCare in 2016 to shed more light on how working practices can affect young lawyer wellbeing and how the profession can better respond to this issue.

From our continuing events series to our representation work, SYLA is focused on delivering value for young lawyers, by young lawyers. Reflecting that, perhaps what was most memorable about 2015 for SYLA was its continuing growth – from all across Scotland, young lawyers are continuing to join forces and group collectively in SYLA. We launched a competition last year to find our 2,000th member, and since then our ranks of members have continued to grow. With this comes a real opportunity to campaign together to effect change and to shape the future legal profession we want to see.

In a time of monumental change for the profession, the camaraderie, fellowship and strength in numbers offered by SYLA is of ever more importance.

We are looking forward to all that is in store for 2016. If you are a young lawyer, or know a young lawyer, who isn’t yet a member of SYLA, please do get involved – you can join SYLA at www.syla.co.uk and also engage with us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (@oSYLAo).

Dates for your SYLA diary

Saturday 5 March 2016 - SYLA Spring Ball, The George Hotel, Edinburgh

Monday 21 March 2016 - SYLA Civil Day Conference, Dunblane Hydro 

Friday 20 May 2016 - SYLA hosts Cancer Research Racquet

The Author
Emma Boffey is President of the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association and a solicitor at CMS 
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