Much-needed shot in the arm

THE TRADITIONAL East-West divide that exists in Scotland has taken on a new perspective with the election of Irvine Development Corporation legal adviser Alan Boyd to the position of president of the Law Society of Scotland.

Retaining his position at the West Coast-based development corporation, Boyd will be commuting more frequently from Irvine to Edinburgh in his new role than he did during his spell as vice-president.

And although he may be considered an outsider as the first lawyer from the public sector to be elected to the presidency, his view is that it is one profession and there should be no differentiation between private practice and public sector solicitors.

He adds that his position “perhaps heightens the honour of being elected to the task of 'leading' the profession”.

Ian Dunbar, a partner at Perth firm Miller Hendry, another graduate of Dundee University and president two years ago, says: “I am delighted to see a president coming from the public sector. I think

he brings enthusiasm, perspective and experience to the job which is good for the whole profession.”

Boyd's experience has spanned the breadth of public sector practice, both in the legal and geographical sense.

From Cumbernauld Development Corporation where he qualified, he moved up to Inverness as a legal assistant. Then he travelled to the most northern point of the UK to act as principal solicitor at the Shetland Islands Council where, he admits, “the climate is unique and provided a unique opportunity to get involved in a wider range of work, sometimes in quite a high-profile way, which very few solicitors get to do”.

After two years offshore, he returned to the mainland, first at Glenrothes Development Corporation, Fife, before joining Irvine Development Corporation, where he is still head of the legal department.

As vice-president for a year prior to taking on the presidency, effectively shadowing the previous incumbent, he is well-placed to know the issues affecting the legal profession in Scotland.

He has been an elected member of the council since 1985, representing the Kilmarnock branch of the local law society. He has also been convenor of the society's financial committee and is ideally placed to keep the body's books in order.

Now, as president, Boyd is tackling wider matters, including the anticipated proposals for changes to legal aid in Scotland and more particularly, new entrants to the profession.

He considers that with more demanding clients, it is self-evident that the training of solicitors should fully equip them to provide the highest standards of professional service and the appropriate fine tuning should be put in place for that.

The Diploma in Legal Practice which was introduced in 1982 is under review and it is acknowledged that certain

areas of practical benefit to trainees need to be addressed, such as management.

He says the society, and the profession generally, “should move away from black letter law and develop trainees who are prepared for practice”.

Some practitioners consider that the profession has delegated the matter of entry to the profession to the universities, and as the professional body responsible for standards and discipline within the profession, it is time that the society should also assume responsibility for some of this.

Although the society is considering possible alternatives, Boyd says that there is no “quick-fix solution”.

And the problem of dealing with the sheer numbers of trainees entering the profession is shared with their counterparts south of the border.

Boyd says: “We cannot use the training mechanism as a crude regulator for the profession, quite apart from the

restrictive practices aspects. We have to preach the message to the education authorities that although it is appreciated that a law degree is good intellectual training, students must realise that they will not all become solicitors or advocates.”

He acknowledges that with such fundamental issues to be tackled, he will be fortunate to cover all the matters which he has inherited.

But he is optimistic that the upturn will come: “If I wasn't, I would not be in the profession and would certainly not have been seeking this position”.

Current IBA president Ross Harper considers that Boyd will be “one of the most robust presidents in recent years. I think he will bring a breath of fresh air to the society”.

Harper adds that it is useful that the new president knows every Edinburgh restaurant intimately, “and if he has a fault, it is that he supports Glasgow Rangers to an extreme”.

Having perhaps reduced the extremes of the East and West divide, Boyd is now taking on the North and South division.

It is common knowledge that the recent legislation applying specifically to Scotland was given parliamentary time when the Post Office privatisation was postponed, but this was down to fortuitous timing rather than planning.

Boyd emphasises that the Scottish legal system is totally different from that of England and Wales, and “as we approach the millennium, for the system north of the border to function as a modern system of law rather than an outdated curiosity, Parliament has to be prepared to pass the legislation to enable it and the Scottish economy to function”.