What’s in a motto? Administering a notary public oath prompts thoughts on the Society’s own motto, and what it says to us in these times of upheaval

Recently, I had the great pleasure to administer the notary public oath for a new notary. I was quite taken by her motto and I started to think about other mottos. My own notary motto is “Ceartas”, meaning “Justice”, in Gaelic, and I reckon very apt given my role this year as your President.

The Society’s motto is “Humani nihil alienum”. I must confess, I did not know a great deal about our motto and I was therefore delighted when Catherine Dyer CBE spoke passionately about the ideals behind the phrase at our admission ceremony in June. I am reliably informed by our director of law reform, Michael Clancy OBE, that our motto is a partial quote from a play by Terence, borrowing from the Greek playwright Menander:

Heauton Timorumenos, Act 1 Scene 1. Chermes: “Homo sum, humani nihil alienum puto,” which roughly translated means “I am a man [literally], I consider nothing of human affairs to be alien to me.”
How comforting at a time of constitutional and political upheaval, which is impacting on all of our lives and business, that we should be underpinned by this sense of historical readiness. Whatever the answer is, we will find it, at the same time driven and guided by care for our fellow (wo)man. I like that. Sometimes life can feel rather overwhelming, but if we remember most things in life have come our way before, albeit in different guises, we can be sure that a path through will be found.

Brussels – the work goes on

Thoughts of our motto also tie in to my recent visit to our office in Brussels to meet with our members working there in the days immediately following the EU referendum. I was also able to meet with several MEPs and the Scottish Government office in Brussels. There was a keen interest in the Society’s thoughts on the priority issues for our members, for our legal system and for the preservation of significant aspects of European jurisprudence and co-operation. We are now working on the detail around these issues with colleagues and various Society committee members. Your views are welcome, as ever.

I must say I was particularly struck by the positive attitude and commitment of all whom I met in Brussels to work in the best interests of Scotland. We will, of course, be sharing our thoughts with you as matters progress, and you can read our EU referendum Q&A on our website. There will also be a session on “Brexit – the legal perspective” at our annual conference on 30 September in Edinburgh.

And the new notary’s motto? “Sedit qui timuit ne non succederet,” or “For fear of failure, (s)he did nothing.” What a great motto for life as a solicitor in 2016. Christy Cunningham will most definitely not be sitting around in these uncertain times, and I urge us all to share her outlook.

The Author
Eilidh Wiseman is President of the Law Society of Scotland – president@lawscot.org.uk; Twitter: @eilidh_wiseman 
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