THE FACULTY of Advocates may be nearly 500 years old, but as an organisation it is keen to modernise.

Under the current leadership of dean Gordon Jackson QC and vice-dean Angela Grahame QC, the Edinburgh-based body has set about trying to shake off its image as an old boys’ club in order to attract a more diverse group of members.

To help it achieve its mission the Faculty created the role of chief executive at the end of last year. Iain Reid, the former finance director of the National Trust for Scotland, has filled the post and plans to use his management experience to influence the diversity agenda.

Loading article content

“If you look at the numbers going through law courses at Scottish universities and the make-up of the solicitors’ profession there’s parity between men and women,” Mr Reid said.

“In the Faculty only about 27 per cent of our members are female. We started to think about how we could address that or at the very least dispel some of the myths about practising at the bar.”

Having set up a diversity and equality committee last year, the Faculty has now introduced a fair instructions policy to ensure that members are handed work based solely on their skills rather than any other factor.

While all advocates are self-employed, they rely on clerking teams to allocate cases to them once their business units – known as stables – receive instructions from solicitors.

By putting in place rules that will prevent clients from asking specifically for a male advocate, say, or a representative from a particular ethnic background the organisation aims to prove that there are no barriers to building up a viable practice at the bar.

“We’ve been looking at fair instructions and whether that was a disincentive to women coming to the bar,” Mr Reid said.

“We have the opportunity with the introduction of a new case management system to record why work is allocated and the way it is allocated.

“We’ve brought in this policy to lay the groundwork for that and to demonstrate that there is no bar to women coming to the organisation that is particularly related to women and doesn’t apply to men.”

As all the stables at the Faculty will use Lex case management software it will be possible to identify trends across the entire profession, which plays into another area Mr Reid is keen to explore as chief executive: how to get the Faculty working more efficiently as a single body while respecting the independence of each individual stable.

“I’m looking at whether we are making good use of technology – could we make more use of things like video conferencing – and also how we develop business for the Faculty as a whole,” he said.

“We have the stable structure and they are able to market themselves and compete for business but there may be situations that we will want to look at to increase the business for the organisation as a whole.”

In the immediate term Mr Reid is focusing on preparing the Faculty for new data protection regulations that come into force in May, something that could prove revolutionary for some professionals working at the bar.

“The first thing that struck me [about the Faculty] when thinking about data protection regulations was the volume of paper we produce,” he said.

“We’re not unusual in the legal sector in that regard because that’s how a lot of people still prefer to work – some have moved to electronic communications but others still get hard-copy instructions from solicitors - but we have to think about how we store and transport that information.

“We are still considering how best to tackle that and are getting some external help to enable us to do that.”

Despite such moves to shake up the image and functioning of the Faculty, Mr Reid said the organisation is not likely to start embracing radical changes to the way it operates.

“This is an organisation with tremendous potential as well as tremendous history and tradition; we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water,” Mr Reid said.

“There will be no sweeping modernisation – it’s not that kind of organisation – but there’s definitely potential for us to do what we do better.”