The first solicitor advocate to be appointed Queen’s Counsel says resisting specialisation has brought him a huge range of cases

Craig ConnalI was fortunate to be made the youngest ever partner in McGrigor Donald at age 25. One of my early advocacy inspirations was my senior partner, the late, great, Alistair Hamilton. He specialised in high value, complex construction cases, in the sheriff court or arbitrations, and thought nothing of conducting the advocacy himself, often against both senior and junior counsel.

I became a solicitor advocate (civil) in 1996. Planning law was then a significant part of my practice and I thought an additional qualification might be helpful. Indeed one of my earliest appearances (with some bravado!) as a solicitor advocate was in the Inner House in a planning case which made law across the UK. When my partner, the late James Taylor was appointed a sheriff, I expanded my range.

Having always resisted specialisation has allowed me to appear in a very wide variety of cases, in equally diverse settings, including tribunals, inquiries of all kinds, Scottish Parliament committees and the UK Supreme Court, on topics from judicial misconduct, to Society-SLCC litigation, to the first contested inquiry under the Flood Protection (Scotland) Act, along with most commercial and property dispute types.

Most memorably, in 2002 I became the first solicitor advocate Queen’s Counsel. When the legislation allowing rights of audience was passed, an official comment indicated that “at an appropriate time” solicitor advocates would be entitled to take silk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! There were no published forms or rules then, so I simply sent the Lord President a collection of materials supporting my CV. In the legal village that is Scotland, my appointment became known to a partner in another firm before I heard! I have always been very conscious of the honour attaching to the “rank and dignity”.

In 2004 I obtained higher rights in the criminal courts. That led to a spell as an ad hoc advocate depute. The old dog had to learn new tricks, such as dealing with juries, but it was a fascinating and rewarding experience. In 2006, following my admission in England & Wales, I also obtained higher rights in all courts there, perhaps the first solicitor advocate to be dual qualified in that way.

I have always been keen on a challenge and tackling new things. That combined with the nature of my practice has led me to appear in many novel or important cases which have reached the law reports. Space does not permit naming them all, but no summary would be complete without mention of Stewart Milne v Aberdeen City Council. A solicitor advocate leading in the Supreme Court broke new ground. It was a thoroughly enjoyable though nerve-wracking experience, perhaps not helped by the live feed allowing many in my office to watch every word.

That appearance lay behind my being named Solicitor Advocate of the Year for England & Wales in 2012, a most unexpected award.

As an enthusiast for advocacy I have always had a special interest in the art in all its forms. As convener of the Society’s Civil Rights of Audience course since 2004, it has been my pleasure and privilege to watch and assist successive classes of budding solicitor advocates working their way to qualification. It is particularly gratifying to see them with their families and friends enjoying the admission ceremony at the Court of Session. I have also judged competitions including an international moot in The Hague involving students from all over the world, under the auspices of the International Criminal Court and the IBA, and the Jessup Moot, the world’s largest mooting competition for law students, run in conjunction with the International Court of Justice.

Now retired as a litigation partner (while continuing to do some advocacy work), I have more time to devote to arbitrations, having in the past sat as an arbitrator on occasion. That allows me to observe advocacy from a different perspective. It is, however, one which is equally rewarding and which I plan to continue.

ADR service

Solicitors are reminded of the ability to become one of the Society’s ADR specialists, and of the Society’s service to appoint an adjudicator, arbitrator or mediator: see the ADR service page.

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