By Thomas Leonard Ross QC
Towards the end of my first year at University the existence of the Faculty of Advocates was first mentioned in my presence. It was time for us to select optional subjects to be taken in the second year of our law degree course and the lecturer mentioned that we might want to select European Law or Conflict of Laws if we were considering ‘a career at the bar’. He might as well have spoken of ‘joining NASA for a career as an astronaut’ so remote was that possibility from my ambitions!
My circumstances were not typical. I was the youngest child of a single parent family residing in a tower block in a council estate in the South West of Glasgow. Untypically, the single parent was my father – my mother having moved to England before I completed primary school. Addiction issues affected both – and continued after they divorced. Throughout my time at University I was regularly in the library until it closed – uncertain whether I would be returning home to calm – or a storm. By the time I left the solicitor profession in the 1990’s both had lost their lives to their addictions.
In contrast to many from a similar background, nobody ever told me that my horizons were limited. When at his best my father told me that could achieve anything that I set my mind to. My elder sisters had gone onto respectable employment and both set a very positive example. Although I was conscious of the fact that many of my University classmates had been to private schools and that some were seeking to become second generation lawyers, it never occurred to me for a second that any of that put me at a disadvantage. At times my home conditions were challenging - I thought if I could obtain a law degree in the face of those difficulties then nothing that the legal profession could throw at me could stop me getting to where I wanted to be.
However unlimited my horizons may have been in theory, in the 1980’s the Faculty of Advocates was certainly not in view. I had never met a single lawyer outside the law faculty and regarded the Faculty as a bunch of toffs who did ‘who knows what’ from an ivory tower somewhere in Edinburgh! I don’t remember any engagement between the Faculty and aspiring lawyers back then and even it’s biggest supporter could not have described it as welcoming.
How things have changed. The Faculty now conducts regular Open Days at which students of all ages can obtain information directly from practicing advocates. Faculty members put in huge amounts of their free time supporting initiatives such as Mini Trials (www.minitrial.org.uk) and Bar Mock Trials and contribute a percentage of their income towards Scholarship schemes designed to assist those with limited funds to come to the Bar.
I know that I speak for our Dean – Roddy Dunlop QC – when I say that the Faculty wishes to attract the brightest and the best of new lawyers – regardless of background. I will be happy to answer any questions about a career at Faculty – or at least direct the enquiry to someone who can – at TLRQC@benchmarkadvocates.co.uk
In August 2017 my wife and I were sitting in a bar beside a Venetian canal about to open (yet another) bottle of Pinot Grigio. Our anniversary celebrations were – first interrupted – then put into overdrive – by an email confirming that I was to be recommended for appointment as one of Her Majesty’s Counsel in Scotland. In that moment all that I had ever wanted from the legal profession had been given to me. Thomas Leonard Ross, Queens Counsel – three years later I still can’t get my head around it.
The Legable project is the best thing that I have seen on the Scottish legal landscape for many a year and I thank those involved for giving me this opportunity. If this short blog helps to encourage a single young person from an unusual background to pursue a career in the law - then my single purpose in writing it will have been accomplished.