Scots law convention to bring profession together

The conference will take place at Edinburgh's Murrayfield Stadium. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The conference will take place at Edinburgh's Murrayfield Stadium. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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ANY “national convention”’ sounds impressive. The first ever “Scots law national convention” appears even grander. Five hundred or so lawyers are expected to attend Scots Law 2013, over and 9 May at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh.

It is unusual to get that many lawyers in the same place at the same time, other than done up in evening dress with a late-night queue of taxis outside a venue ready to convey them safely home.

The event has been pulled together by CLT Scotland, the legal training and continuing professional development (CPD) company, in association with the University of Strathclyde.

Roy Spiers, a former solicitor with Brodies, has been director of programmes with CLT Scotland since 2004 and is responsible for running 40 to 50 specialist conferences a year along with many more specific half-day CPD events.

He says the idea of bringing participants to the same venue on this occasion is a response to the speed of change across the whole profession.

“We were very aware of the shift in dynamics within the profession with regard to legal education and its accessibility,” he says, “so the aim of Scots Law 2013 is to provide not simply a training day, but a forum where the profession can come together under one roof, to learn from expert speakers, network with their peers and also to find ways to develop their own businesses both through expanding their knowledge base and finding out what products are available from other legal service providers.”

The format of the two-day event is built around eight separate forums: on family law; criminal law; licensing; private-client work; rural practice and issues; conveyancing; employment; and development of paralegal work as a profession within the profession.

For those for whom it is important, each of the individual forums can be recorded for CPD purposes.

Colin Henderson of Anderson Strathern is booked to chair the private-client session and is enthusiastic about the whole event. “I applaud CLT for the innovative approach in bringing together practitioners from across the profession in Scotland,” he says.

“The profession has largely broken itself into specialisms such as criminal defence or family law or employment.

“Private law is constantly changing through new law and case law. It is really important to keep up to date. It is logical for firms to concentrate their cpd on developments within their specialism but there are many crossover areas, say, between matrimonial law and tax law. If we recognise those better and the possibilities of cooperation, we can offer a better service to clients.”

The programme cites the Chambers 2013 description of Henderson as “an absolute star in the field”. Does such a billing weigh lightly on his shoulders? “Well, it makes the long hours and hard work easier to justify at home.”

Rachael Kelsey – “ranked Band I in Chambers 2013” – of Sheehan Kelsey Oswald will chair the forum on family law. She says the convention is not only an antidote to specialisms tending to look at issues narrowly but also to Central Belt spectacles.

“The fact the bulk of the legal profession is concentrated in the Central Belt tends to overlook both the similarities and the instructive differences in practice in the further-flung parts of the land,” she says. “The convention is a very practical concept. I’m not surprised it is attracting such interest.”

Family law is one of the faster-evolving areas of practice. Kelsey adds: “It is changing not only from the point of view of the law – case law and black letter law – but also in how we must run a practice that provides the sort of service clients are asking for and not what we automatically want to provide.”

The family law forum is one of two that will have a set-piece keynote speech. Lord Brailsford is the family court judge at the Court of Session and is currently chairing a working group looking at modernising the court rules and structures in family law cases.

His brief is “the coming reforms in the delivery of family law justice through the courts”.

In plainer English, Kelsey says Lord Brailsford’s task is to “take family law by the scruff of the neck and shake it”.

Her view is that such a shaking is overdue.

“Longstanding procedures and rules that were developed in contract and commercial law were rather shoehorned into family proceedings and often don’t help. We need to develop a comprehensive set of rules for proceedings that are more suited to the highly personal and intense circumstances of family law, including child contact and residence, and don’t leave the parties, including the children, more damaged at the end of the process,” says Kelsey.

The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Carloway, will give a keynote address to the criminal law forum titled Scots criminal evidence and procedure – meeting the challenges and expectations of modern society and legal thinking.

CLT Scotland’s Roy Spiers appears very pleased with his keynote speakers. “We were keen to ensure that they were not only at the very forefront of the legal profession – but are also able to impart their knowledge to our delegates in an effective way,” he says.

“It is vitally important to hear from those who have been tasked with considering change within what is a very fluid era for the profession and to provide them with the opportunity to hear directly from those that change will affect.”

Nevertheless, it is still relatively rare for the most senior judges to venture out to share thinking on their “work in progress”.

Lord Carloway takes the straightforward view that “the more discussion we can have, the better”.

“There is much work to be done over the next decade,” he continues. “I think it is a good thing that over the last decade or more judges have understood that the public expect them to engage with society generally. They have to preserve proper judicial independence, of course, but judges see in the cases that come before them the flaws in legislation or the areas where modern society and technology are presenting a challenge to procedures and assumptions.

“It is proper that we contribute to thinking about how our system can be improved and kept up to date.”

Lord Carloway says he has used a series of talks over the last six months to share his thinking on the themes of evidence and procedure. They can be subsumed under the question he believes that jurisdictions should constantly ask themselves: why are we doing this?

“In many ways our criminal trials are geared to the values and technology of the late Victorian era, with a focus on gathering all the witnesses into the same courtroom on the same days to give their evidence under oath,” he says. “At that time there was no better evidence than eye-witness testimony. That’s not necessarily true now, when there are ways of recording evidence at the time or much closer to the event. We must upgrade our thinking around the question ‘what is the best evidence we have available?’ ”