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Devilling at the Bar

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Since the mid 1990s the Faculty of Advocates, the governing body for advocates practicing at the Scottish Bar, has significantly tightened eligibility for the Bar and raised the standard of the qualifications required even to enter training at the Bar. Even if you have qualified as a solicitor, an applicant for the Bar would still require to take specific Bar exams and complete a six-week induction program held annually during October and November. If you are brave enough to pursue a career at the Bar without first qualifying as a solicitor, then you will require to undertake a traineeship similar to that undertaken by a trainee solicitor though for a slightly shorter period. The period must be at least 21 months, although this can be reduced in some cases. Part of the period of training may be spent in the office of a lawyer in one of the European Community Member States. Not every law firm offers what are known as Bar traineeships (as opposed to the usual solicitor traineeships). Most commonly, Bar traineeships are offered in some of the Edinburgh and Glasgow law firms which conduct a significant amount of Court of Session or High Court business. Applicants for the Bar are expected to be academically very able. As a result, since 1996 the regulations for entry to the Bar have been tightened and as a minimum, an applicant has to have a second class honors degree in Scots law, or a non-honors degree in Scots law and an honors degree, of at least lower second class in another subject, or an ordinary degree with distinction. A degree with distinction is extremely difficult to obtain. It tends to mean that you have gained a mark of around 70% (i.e. equivalent to a first class mark) in a significant number of all your undergraduate subjects.

If you are a mature student who is already a graduate but not with an honors degree and you aspire to the Bar, you may find yourself in some difficulty given these strict entry qualifications. Normally, for financial reasons, a graduate coming to law school to study law as a second degree will undertake an accelerated degree over a two-year period. You cannot gain an honors degree in that time. You could gain an ordinary degree with distinction but, as mentioned above, that is a very tall order. Unless you felt yourself capable of this you may have to enroll for an honors degree in law, but you would find yourself facing four years of funding through university, which would be an extremely expensive route. If you were determined to go to the Bar, your better option would be to complete a traineeship as a solicitor, qualify as a solicitor and then apply to go to the Bar.


After completion of a Bar traineeship, applicants for the Bar have to complete a period of pupilage for around nine months. During pupilage the prospective advocate is known as a "devil" and has to be apprenticed to a "devil master". A devil master can be junior or senior counsel and it is up to individual applicants to make arrangements to devil with a particular advocate. Devil masters are not permitted to charge fees for taking on and training applicants. Guidance about how to find and secure a devil master can be given by the Clerk to the Faculty of Advocates. The entrance regulations for advocates are detailed and complex, and if you are considering a career in advocacy you should read the current regulations which will be available from the Clerk to the Faculty of Advocates and ensure that you are able to comply with the regulations before you embark on what will be a very costly process.

By far the best way of finding out what it is like to be an advocate is to speak to current advocates. Practice at the Bar is highly specialized-some would say elitist-and is not to be recommended unless you have made full enquiries about what is involved and your chances of success. It is very much a "sink or swim" profession. Your income is dependent on the fees that you earn. As you are instructed by solicitors (and not directly by clients) any fees that you earn may not be forthcoming for many months or indeed years depending on the length of time a case takes to reach a conclusion. Some improvement to the cash flow of advocates has been made in recent years with the establishment of a company acting on behalf of all advocates known as Faculty Services Ltd. This company generates fee notes, collects fees and distributes to individual advocates. Nonetheless every advocate is self-employed, although they do work together in groupings known as a "stable". Each stable has a clerk who is in effect the administrator for the stable. The clerk takes instructions from solicitors and distributes work to advocates within his or her grouping.

Practice at the Bar will not suit every personality. It can easily be experienced as solitary, unsupported and with no guarantee of income. For those who do succeed however the rewards are high. While the income levels at the Scottish Bar are unlikely to reach those reported at the English Bar, it can nonetheless be extremely comfortable, and can of course lead to higher achievements such as appointment to the Bench or other public offices.

The training period

The type of training experience which you receive will vary hugely from firm to firm. It is not misleading to say that every firm will train in a different manner. The Law Society in Scotland is poised to introduce regulations regarding a training log, which will require to be kept by employers and employees showing the kinds of work and competencies undertaken throughout the training period. Given the difficult job market for trainee solicitors, rules regarding the kind of work which a trainee has to have completed before being permitted to qualify as a solicitor, have recently been relaxed. It is no longer necessary to have completed training in more than one area of law. It is therefore possible, in theory, for you to train for two years exclusively in criminal law or domestic conveyancing. This may not provide the best training unless you are absolutely certain that that is the area in which you wish to specialize for the rest of your career. It might be to your advantage to try to gain a training contract with a firm which offers a more varied training. Most of the large training firms, by which are meant those taking at least six trainees a year, are likely to offer training in at least three different areas, such as private client, litigation, corporate/ commercial and conveyancing. The advantage of such an all-round training is that you have the opportunity to discover which area of law best suits you. You are also better placed to apply for jobs subsequent to your traineeship as you will not be restricted to any particular area. The process of specialization within the legal profession has increased markedly in recent years. Solicitors appear to become specialist very early on, and scope for the generalist solicitor is reducing, certainly in the cities, though not so much in rural areas where solicitors are still expected to be able to handle a variety of different types of work.

If problems arise during your training contract it may be possible to assign the contract to another employer. Some-times, unfortunately, the law firm for whom you are working, becomes insolvent or for some other reason has to cease business. Similarly, you might experience difficulties with your employer and feel the need to make a move. You should seek the assistance of the Law Society in gaining an assignation. In principle it is not difficult. You simply have to complete your training contract for the period of time left to run with a different employer. Finding an alternative employer is of greater difficulty. It may be up to you to simply ask around and use such contacts and networks as you have to locate an alternative solicitor with whom you can complete your training. Separate from the need to assign your contract, if you have any other problems during your traineeship, particularly if they are problems associated with bullying or harassment, then you should raise these with the Law Society who will be able to offer confidential advice. There may also be other organizations that can assist such as the Scottish Young Lawyers Association or your local Law Society Council Representative.

The Law Society of Scotland produce a booklet entitled Guidelines for the Training of Solicitors which will give more specific details of what you can expect of your employer and what your employer can expect of you. The guidelines include a model training contract of the type that you should receive from your employing firm. You can obtain a copy of these guidelines on request from the Law Society of Scotland.


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