Excellence is a prerequisite to success for the latest devils called to the Bar - Richard Pugh

Last week saw the latest group of devils (trainee advocates) called to the Bar in Scotland. This marks their entry into a public office (that of advocate) that demands they deliver ongoing excellence as they engage in providing access to justice.

Richard Pugh is the Clerk of Faculty at the Faculty of Advocates
Richard Pugh is the Clerk of Faculty at the Faculty of Advocates

The Faculty of Advocates is committed to making sure those admitted to the Bar are given the highest quality of education and training. This is reflected in the rigorous skills training devils need to complete before they can be called to the Bar. Training begins in October, with a foundation course, a five-week intensive advocacy skills course during which devils participate in workshops and seminars designed to develop their oral and written advocacy. Throughout the remainder of their time, devils undertake several shorter skills courses.

Away from skills training, each devil has a principal devilmaster, a practising advocate of at least seven years standing, with a primarily civil practice, as well as a criminal devilmaster. Shadowing their devilmasters gives devils invaluable ‘on the job’ training. Together, these elements balance the hard and the soft skills an advocate requires to practice successfully.

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Finding this training balance can be tricky. Some devils arrive fresh from a traineeship as a solicitor, while others may have practised as solicitors or solicitor advocates for many years. A devil who has just completed a traineeship may have all the talent required to practise, but will almost definitely lack experience in asking the right questions and persuading judges. Those who have spent more time practising as a solicitor may have much more court experience and have developed the necessary soft skills, but may have formed practises or habits that impact their persuasiveness in court. Faculty of Advocates’ training needs to bring the best out in all devils.

Many people might assume the hallmark of any good advocate is being an excellent court performer. But excellence as an advocate is more nuanced than that. The Bar requires very different skills in various practice areas. The late Lord Jones taught us, when I was a devil on the foundation course, that the function of an advocate is to persuade. That requires clarity of thought and the ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing. How that translates in practice depends on the type of case. For an advocate involved in criminal trials the ability to think forensically and work effectively in front of a jury are both essential. Working on public-law matters, the greatest skills are often those required to analyse and unpack legislation and write clearly about their analysis.

Lockdown restrictions brought a particular set of challenges. Those completing their devilling during the pandemic were required to perform to the same standards of excellence as previous devils, even though much of their instruction had to be moved online.

Devilling is the beginning rather than the end of an advocate’s training journey. Devilling aims to establish solid foundations that can be built on throughout an advocate’s career. The law is constantly developing. What was persuasive at one time is perhaps less so now.

Advocates are required to engage in continuous professional development throughout their careers, which takes into account the constant changes and challenges they face. These initiatives include, among others, practical training, coaching, and presentations organised by the Faculty. Their ongoing competence as advocates is also formally assessed by the Faculty every five years.

Alongside the theoretical and practical training provided by the Faculty is an insistence that each member displays the ethics, values and mindset that allows them to flourish as reputable, reliable advocates. They operate in an extremely competitive market, and nothing less than excellence is a prerequisite for success.

Aspiring advocates are not generally permitted to work during devilling, though tutoring students and other such work are commonly permitted. To increase equality and diversity in the profession, the Faculty both administers and provides various scholarships. These recognise the need to provide a diverse mix of candidates representative of the public they will serve on their call to the Bar.

In this, their first week as advocates and as members of the Faculty of Advocates, I join the rest of our membership in wishing them every success as they start their new careers in providing access to justice to the people of Scotland.

Richard Pugh is the Clerk of Faculty at the Faculty of Advocates

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