The eloquence of the school students who last night took part in the final of the Society’s annual Donald Dewar Memorial Debating Tournament was impressive – and hugely encouraging for the future. Congratulations first to the winning team from Glasgow Academy and a special mention to the runners-up, from George Heriot’s. The future of debate in Scotland is certainly assured if their performance is anything to go by. More than that, if these young people go on to become the civic and business leaders of tomorrow, the future of Scotland itself is truly in safe and capable hands.
But what the participants said off-microphone also made a lasting impression. All those I spoke to were focused on fulfilling their potential, initially by working hard to achieve the best exam results possible and then in the career of their choice. Some had a clear idea of what university they hoped to attend, others less so. But, with a variety of options in England and elsewhere, it was far from certain that they would choose to study or pursue a career in Scotland. The Scottish legal profession – surely a natural home for those with an interest in debate – was mentioned as a possibility, but so too were other vocations.
The challenge for the Scottish solicitors’ profession is obvious – how are we to continue to attract the brightest and the best? While the occasional unseemly spat among ourselves does little to promote the ideal image, there is no doubt that a career in the law offers tremendous opportunities. To build on that, the study and practice of law must be regarded as modern, exciting and worthwhile, particularly for those who want to make a difference. The responsibility for that lies with us all.
Certainly, I look ahead with considerable confidence. Not only does the Society’s debating tournament continue to go from strength to strength but our comprehensive review of legal education and training is also firmly focused on attracting and retaining the best students and lawyers, notwithstanding the dearth of current job opportunities. In the meantime, we can also look forward to Scotland hosting the 2011 World Schools Debating Championships, which will take place in Dundee. Given yesterday evening’s display of talent, there is good reason to be optimistic about the possibility of a victory on home soil.Lorna Jack is Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland