I recently marked 15 years of being a qualified lawyer. Such moments provide an opportunity for reflection. During my career I have practised law whilst based in three very different Scottish cities, from training in Aberdeen then moving to Edinburgh for four years, before relocating to Inverness in 2012. My career has provided me with the opportunity to work with clients across Scotland and, in doing so, I have become aware of particular challenges that present themselves in those different locations. Having spent the majority of my career (11 years) in the Highlands, I have developed a deep understanding of how those challenges affect this community and how they can be overcome.

Geographical challenges

The total land area of the Highland Council, including all islands, is 26,484 sq km, which accounts for a third of the land area of Scotland. The significant distances between courts across the Highlands and Islands does have an impact on us and on many of our clients. Before the pandemic, I would fly from Inverness to the Isle of Lewis once a month to represent clients, in person, in Stornoway Sheriff Court. I would also regularly make the two-hour round trip to Tain Sheriff Court. To attend meetings with me, some clients would have to drive many miles, taking whole days off work. The pandemic brought about unprecedented change to the way we work and introduced the use of video court hearings, so that clients can meet with lawyers over a video call rather than in-person if they don't want to, or can't, travel. The result of this is that while the communities of the Highlands and Islands are spread out, technology has made the world a smaller place and clients can have access to us or the courts with greater ease than ever before.

Small communities and confidentiality

Over the years, a number of people have expressed to me their concerns about instructing family lawyers in Inverness or in other areas of the Highlands and Islands on the basis that they fear "everyone knowing their business". My response to this is one of reassurance; that clients and their information is handled with complete confidentiality. Every lawyer across Scotland is governed by "standards of conduct" set down by the Law Society of Scotland. These standards specify that lawyers must act with honesty and integrity at all times and that all colleagues at a law firm must keep their clients' business confidential. Family lawyers know that they are dealing with particularly emotionally sensitive and often financially complex information. Preserving the inherently private nature of that information is the very cornerstone of our professional obligations.

Complexity of instructions and quality of lawyers

I have also heard it said, more than once, that "there are no good lawyers north of the central belt". The truth is that the location of where a lawyer practises does not define their abilities. Having practised law in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Inverness, it is unequivocally the case that the same family-related legal issues exist in the likes of Thurso, Ullapool, Aviemore, Dingwall, Elgin and Portree as they do in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Families across Scotland are diverse, complex and interesting. They all need the very best lawyers to help them in the event of relationship breakdown and conflict. Since the outset of my career I've been fortunate to have worked, and continue to work here in Inverness, alongside and opposite high quality family lawyers.


Sarah Lilley