For my faculty visit to Caithness, I flew up from Edinburgh airport to Wick. A pleasant, if turbo-prop-noisy, flight, with spectacular scenery below the clouds and some breathtaking photos of sun-streamed sea from the porthole of the Saab 340.
We landed at Wick in summery sunshine, and I got a taxi to MacKay’s Hotel, which although it is addressed as Union Street, is in fact situated on the shortest street in the UK – Ebenezer Place, where it is not surprisingly no 1, there being no space for any other numbers. I was welcomed in, and went out for a walk around the town to find my bearings and get a flavour of the place. Wick is a neat, if rather elderly northern harbour town, and peaceful and picturesque as only a Scottish sea town can be.
When I came back to the hotel, the boss was floating around, and I identified myself as VP of the LSS. Such is the way of things in a little place in the remote Highlands, he said that not only had he seen me come in at the airport, and also seen me with my camera in High Street, but the pilot of the plane had told him that some guy had got off the place and taken a photo of it (maybe he thought I was from HMRC, or BALPA!). I explained that I would be loading up the photos on to my own Facebook page, and also submitting them to the Law Society of Scotland Journal, so the more images I got, the better. I told him of my mission to visit and consult with local solicitors, and the Society’s commitment to the whole of Scotland.
Purely in the interests of local relations I went down to the hotel bar for a pint of beer – I know, I know, the sacrifice.
After a hearty Highland breakfast, I and the other guest speaker, Sarah Boyle of Edinburgh firm SKO Family Solicitors, were picked up and taken to Ackergill Tower, a superb country house and grounds outside Wick, where the historic main tower building also serves as a small luxury hotel and opera house. Our meeting was in, of all places, the wooden tree-house in the grounds, which was ideal for a small conference, although a bit like something from Lord of the Rings. Our only sadness was that Sarah and I had to get the only flight back down to Edinburgh, so missed lunch in the opulent dining room of the Tower – where the huge walk-in inglenook fireplace may be familiar to those who perhaps saw pictures of (amongst many other celebs) broadcaster Phil Schofield’s wedding which was celebrated there. The walls throughout are hung with paintings, animal horns, battle standards – hundreds of years of local and noble history all around.
Getting down to business, I talked to the Caithness Faculty solicitors about current Law Society of Scotland and solicitor issues – ABS, legal aid, conveyancing practice in the high street, the constitution – both to inform colleagues of what is happening, but also to hear their responses, opinions and wishes. I stressed that we are one profession and wish to support each other, with similar pressures and problems to confront. What I got from the solicitors was a recognition of the issues at hand, a determination to succeed, a wish to be kept entirely within the loop, and a demand in particular that the Society use all possible means – electronic and otherwise – to provide leadership, advice, response and CPD (especially CPD) as copiously as provided for more central areas. Our conference was geared up to take videoconferencing from other contributors later on in the day.
It was pointed out to me that solicitors in remote areas, especially Highlands and Islands areas, are expert in the most modern means of communication and information sharing – because they have to be, and they sometimes feel as if the Society is a little behind the pace on some occasions on these matters.
Sarah spoke expertly and engagingly on LGBT issues in family law, especially surrogacy and gay adoption, and in spite of these being slightly esoteric subjects for a small-town audience, she articulately tied them in to family law practice generally, so the audience was most interested in the whole talk.
I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and meeting colleagues, and there is no doubt that in spite of electronic means of communication, there is ultimately no substitute for being with people in real time and space. And as ever, there is always much more that joins us as solicitors than separates us.
And I got further north than I had ever been in my life so far.