Dan McManus, student associate of the Law Society of Scotland, reviews his experience of our annual conference, Leading Legal Excellence: For the Greater Good.

I recently entered the Law Society of Scotland’s competition to write a blog on why students want to practice law for the greater good.  I was fortune enough to win the competition which gave me two tickets to the annual conference.

Along with a fellow student, I went to the conference at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre to listen to an array of speakers, including key note speeches from the Rt. Hon. Lord Carloway and the Lord Advocate.

This was an excellent networking opportunity as well as an opportunity to gain insight into the development of the law in practice.  What struck me was the variety of people at the event, from sole practitioners to in-house solicitors from multi-national companies.

The Lord President’s speech certainly raised eyebrows as he talked about the summary justice reforms, and in particular the suggestion of recording witness accounts to form their evidence in summary trials.

To quote the Lord President’s speech: “The plan is to record and store evidence, which is captured as close to the time of the alleged event as possible, in digital format. This means pre-recording witness statements in video format and using it in place of testimony in court, subject, of course, to fairness requirement. The power which video and audio recording presents to capture the most accurate account, which is usually that given in the immediate aftermath of an incident, must be harnessed. That ultimate goal remains on the horizon, but it is clearly visible.”

Certainly interesting, and from a personal point of view it has piqued my interest on the impact that this will have on convention rights and the law of evidence - particularly where the Lord President gives significant detail on how the recording of evidence would work, and what it will achieve, but little detail on what safeguards will be in place.

Other highlights on the day included a discussion on legal aid, with criminal practitioners raising just how much of their preparation work was now done without payment. The greater good (the theme of the conference) certainly cannot be defended without access to high quality representation. 

On the day, it struck me just how many young solicitors and trainees are no longer working in firms which take on legal aid cases. A common theme seemed to be that it was now very difficult to make a living from legal aid work with concerns from practitioners that this will lead to further erosion of the protection of the most vulnerable in our society.  Perhaps the practical implications of the mantra “For the Greater Good” can only lead to frustration amongst the profession whilst idealistic notions are thwarted by savage cuts to legal aid.

In summary and in general – I found the Law Society’s annual conference to be a great networking event and a great opportunity to experience life in practice. I would thoroughly recommend the conference to all my fellow students!