Gordon Jackson QC: Mini-devils set sights on the bar

Gordon Jackson QC

Dean of Faculty, Gordon Jackson QC, explains a new scheme for students considering a career at the bar.

It’s good to talk, as the telephone ads used to tell us, and aspiring advocates of the future might have good reason to be thankful for a casual chinwag between a student and one of our members.

Had the pair not fallen into conversation at a social event, the Faculty and Strathclyde University might never had come up with plans for a “mini-devilling” programme to allow law students to gain first-hand experience of life at the bar and help them decide whether to pursue a career as an advocate.

Antonia Welsh, who is studying for her Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP) at Strathclyde, had it in mind that she would like to go to the bar later in her career. She was unsure, however, about exactly what might be involved and mentioned this to Amber Galbraith in their chat.

Amber was happy to help. She called as an advocate in 2005 and enjoys a busy practice, specialising in personal injury, professional negligence, and health and safety litigation, and suggested that Antonia might “shadow” her.

Strathclyde University offers students a work-based learning elective in its course, and it was arranged that for one day a week over three months, Antonia would shadow mainly Amber, but also another advocate, Malcolm Mcgregor.

She was able to gain experience from sitting in on consultations with clients and expert witnesses, and attending cases in both the Allscotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court and Court of Session. Antonia was impressed and thought it was the type of experience which should be open to fellow students. She approached myself and Charles Hennessy, Director of the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at Strathclyde University, and suggested a formal link-up.

“My experience shadowing counsel has been extremely insightful. I have been very lucky to have been given this opportunity,” Antonia said. “Counsel are very welcoming, engaging and interested in helping – no matter how silly the question. I wanted to show other people how open and friendly the Bar actually is.”

I was delighted to take on board Antonia’s idea, and work with the university to set up a programme which we are calling “mini-devilling”. As many people will know, devilling is the full-time, intense nine-month training which trainee advocates undergo before being admitted to the Faculty. We thought mini-devilling described the new scheme perfectly.

The Faculty is appointing a pool of advocates to act as mini devilmasters or devilmistresses, to be shadowed by DPLP students. It is intended to start the three-month programme in January 2019. Initially, mini-devilling will be confined to Strathclyde students but we hope it might be extended to other universities.

It would be difficult to find a better endorsement of mini-devilling than Antonia’s words.

She said: “I feel that the bar is not on many students’ radars and I am really excited that the Faculty and the University are starting the mini-devilling programme.

“I would encourage other students to consider it. Not only do you get a feel for life at the Bar but I have also gained a number of very important skills, and I hope this opportunity will support me as a trainee in the future.”

Charles Hennessy says that, for the university, the programme is a perfect fit for the existing work-based learning elective: “Those who are contemplating a career at the bar will obtain a valuable introduction to the work of an advocate and the practice of litigation.”

We were pleased to see a very positive response on social media. A common observation from qualified lawyers was that they wished this had been available when they were doing their Diploma. It was hailed as “a great opportunity”, “fantastic” and “very exciting”.

So, there’s going to be a lot to live up to, but I’m confident we can make mini-devilling a success and use it as a means of reaching out to those who will become the future generations of great Scottish lawyers. At the Faculty, we strongly believe that we have been a centre of excellence for hundreds of years, and if that is to be maintained, we must entice the brightest and best legal minds.

“The university campus is a good place to start, and we already do much to spread our message to students. Thanks to that chance chat between Antonia and Amber, we can now add mini-devilling to the curriculum.