Scottish Government Lawyer

What do you do for a living?

Scottish Government lawyer

How did you get interested in what you do?

Through the study of history, which led to an interest in current affairs (history in progress...) and the decision to study law, and from there to the wish to use my legal skills to help shape current events.

School careers advice was very basic in my day - stuff along the lines of 'you have the grades to do x, y or z'.  University open days were however very useful and helped me to decide both what, and where to study. The best advice came from family and friends.

What was your journey to reach the role you are in today?

I did the 'arts' highers at school, coasted shamelesly in 6th year, and then completed a 4 year LL.B at Edinburgh University.
I took a year out before deciding to train as a lawyer, and worked in local government for half that year.
I then did the one year Diploma in Legal Practice at Edinburgh University, followed by a two year training contract leading to qualification as a solicitor.
I worked in private practice in Peebles for 10 years, before leaving to join the civil service where I have been for 11 years.  I am now a senior principal (middle management).

The civil service has a very strong focus on continuing professional development, and I carry out many hours of training every year, including delivering a lot of training both internally and as a guest lecturer on EU law at Edinburgh Napier University.

(I also went back to college and completed a part time history degree.  Still my first love...!)

Talk us through a day in your life

I lead the Environmental Protection Team in the Scottish Government Legal Directorate.  The work is very varied and covers climate change, nature conservation (including genetically modified organisms and wildlife crime),  pollution prevention and control, water industry and waste (including radioactive waste).

I discuss any ongoing issues with my team, mostly relating to compliance with the many EU directives regulation environmental matters such as the Water Framework Directive and the Waste Framework Directive.

I will check on progress in any of the court actions against SG that raise environmental issues, typically involving allegations of non-compliance with the nature protection rules in the Habitats Directive and the Wild Birds Directive.  I will check or draft advice and instructions for the Advocates we use in such cases.

I will deal with any advisory work that has come up, typically making sure that the Scottish Ministers are acting within the law, and in particular making sure that what we do is devolved and is fully comptatible with human rights and with EU rules.

I will draft any new secondary legislation that is needed (also known as statutory instruments), and instruct specialied Parliamentary drafters to prepare any new primary legislation that is needed.  Recent Acts of the Scottish Parliament handled by my team include the Wildlife and Natural Environmental  (S) Act 2011 and the Water Resources (S) Act 2013. Was this your planned career when you were 18? Yes - I always wanted to work in Government.  I just took the tourist route to get there...

What did your parents want you to do?

They wanted me to do what I wanted to do, and gave me very strong support when I was studying.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Take an interest in the world, particularly current affairs.  Be outgoing - being a good lawyer needs an equal mix of good people skills and intellectual rigour. Above all, be prepared to work hard.  If you do, the rewards will come.

What other career directions could you go in? 

The legal profession is very varied, and legal skills are highly transferrable.  I could move to another area of law quite easily, and probably will - the civil service encourgages staff to move around.

I could move into policy advice in the civil service, or advice delivery in the third sector.  I worked for three years on secondment as the lead adviser on bankruptcy and court enforcement, including putting a large bill throught the Scottish Parliament (now the Banrkuptcy and Diligence (S) Act 2007).

I could move into legal research, perhaps at the Scottish Law Commission. 

Anything you have not covered about your area of expertise? 

A good lawyer will look to put something back into the pot. Many lawyers give free legal advice to people and to charities (called 'pro
bono' work - a smattering of latin is still useful...).  I for example have worked for many years with the Citizens Advice Service, and am currently Chair of Peebles Citizens Advice Bureau.

We would be happy to talk to anyone who is interested in volunteering with us