At almost every turn in the Faculty of Advocates, there is a reminder of one of our most celebrated sons – Sir Walter Scott. It is not by accident that of all the statues which adorn the Parliament Hall in Edinburgh’s Parliament House, home of the Supreme Courts of Scotland, it is a statue of Scott you see looking back from beside the entrance to the Faculty.
Once you pass through the door into the Advocates Library and other Faculty premises, Scott’s gaze, from plaques and paintings, is never very far away.
Scott is a strong link to the Faculty’s past and its great heritage. But the Faculty continues to move with the times. And it is one of Scott’s characters, Paulus Pleydell, who can remind us that the practice of law is more than a dry, technical exercise.
Pleydell, an Edinburgh lawyer in Guy Mannering, was based on Andrew Crosbie, one of Scott’s predecessors at the 18th century Scottish Bar. As he points to the books surrounding him in his study, Pleydell declares: “These… are my tools of trade. A lawyer without history or literature is a mechanic, a mere working mason; if he possesses some knowledge of these, he may venture to call himself an architect.”
There has always been a training culture at the Faculty, as it seeks to (in the words of former Lord President, Lord Gill) uphold values of: a commitment to excellence; a commitment to scholarship and learning; a commitment to the noblest ideals of professional conduct; and, above all, a commitment to justice for all in our society. These values are summed up in the Faculty motto, suum cuique, “may all get their due”.
Trainee advocates, colourfully called “devils”, have traditionally learned by shadowing experienced advocates (“devilmasters”) for nine months. The devils watch their devilmasters in court, consultations and the many other aspects of their devilmaster’s work. They draft documents and research the law. The tradition of devilling continues today.
Devilling is augmented by formal advocacy training. Although advocacy training is not strictly a scientific exercise, it is possible to identify and teach effective advocacy techniques; the flip-side is that each devil learns his or her unique strengths – finds his or her own voice – and masters it by the application of hard work, determination and courage.
The teaching of advocacy has had to evolve with society and adapt to its needs. The 18th edition of Harris’s Hints on Advocacy notes the changes since the first edition in 1879, and makes modifications in the text to suit “the modern practice of advocacy”, and adapt to “the social conditions of those with whom the advocate comes into contact, whether as parties to an action, as defendants in criminal prosecutions, as witnesses or jurors”.
The Faculty, too, has adapted to the modern practice of advocacy. By the mid-1990s, it required advocates to attend several weeks of skills training during devilling; senior advocates and the judiciary (“senators of the College of Justice”) give the devils the highest quality instruction. Our instructors teach advocacy skills internationally, and international advocacy trainers teach our devils.
This ground-breaking programme has itself moved with the times and continues to grow and develop. The present devils have had seven weeks’ intensive training, with assessments at the end. An advocate’s learning does not end when the devils call in June, however. Devilmasters offer career-long guidance, Senators play a vital role in maintaining standards and the Faculty’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme allows qualified advocates to hone their knowledge, judgment and skills by attending regular seminars, workshops, and coaching. Every five years, advocates must undergo quality assurance assessment.
Today’s advocate must rigorously analyse his or her case and fearlessly present it in court, testing the veracity of the other side’s evidence and argument so the judge or jury can assess its value. At the same time, today’s advocate must be aware of the needs of the vulnerable and treat them with dignity and respect so they, too, may “get their due”.
Some methods of training would have startled Pleydell: the use of legal databases; electronic documents; video review; videos; and e-learning. What would have been entirely familiar however, are the Faculty’s ideals, which continue unchanged in the face of a changing society.
Neil Mackenzie, advocate, is director of education and training at the Faculty of Advocates