Why did you become a Solicitor Advocate?
I started my career at a well-known litigation firm and I was drawn to the adversarial nature of court work. I was particularly attracted to being the person at the 'sharp point' of the case and arguing it before the court.
I applied when I had reached the five years fully qualified requirement becoming, in 1999, the youngest solicitor advocate ever. The person who vetted the applications back then was the late David Williamson QC of Brodies, so it is rather amusing that many years later I have ended up a QC at his firm. It is fair to say that David, along with the likes of, James Taylor, Frank McGuire and Craig Connal QC, blazed the trail for solicitor advocacy and inspired me throughout my career.
When I qualified as a lawyer some people I knew had inferred that success as an advocate had more to do with who you knew than how good you were. At the time I wanted to prove that this isn't true and on reflection now, I do think I have achieved success on my own terms.
Today, whether you choose to be a solicitor advocate or advocate is about which business and practice model an individual prefers. There are pros and cons too, but both are fine career choices.
What case stands out for you?
My appearances in Cora v East Dunbartonshire Council were very memorable. Before Lady Wise the debate took six days and I spoke over three days. It was my first Procedure Roll debate where I had a senior and there were four speeches. I was pleased to work with Jonathan Lake KC, who taught me the finer points of how to conduct a case of this kind.
Another memorable element of this case was the discussion before the Division (Appeal Court) which took place over several days, spread over a couple of months because one of the judges fell ill. Also, the legal issues were highly complex and we were looking at authorities back to the days of Edward I.
How do you become a QC?
First, you need to fulfill exactly the same criteria as all other practising QCs in terms of cases, respect of the bench, probity, ethics and so on.
Second, you apply and the Lord President, and his advisory committee must believe that you fulfill all criteria and merit the appointment. If someone wants to achieve the "rank and dignity" of senior counsel they need to commit to the highest standards of practice and ethics throughout their career.
Our profession, whether it is as a solicitor or an advocate, is more than just a business. It is about the rule of law and a cornerstone of our democracy. The role of 'counsel', and particularly, senior counsel, is a vital component of our justice system and one is unlikely to attain that "rank and dignity" by merely playing lip service to the ideals and ethics that underpin the profession.
What one piece of advice would you give to anyone who is thinking about becoming a Solicitor Advocate?
You will be anxious when appearing, the day you are not is probably the day to retire!
What three things can't you live without to do your job?
A great instructing solicitor, well ordered instructions and papers and, perhaps most of all, good luck.