The history of female jurors in Scotland

When was the first woman juror in Scotland, and what did people think about them?

I volunteered at my workplace last year for Doors Open Day, opening up the library as a stop for guided “behind the scenes” and “historic” tours of the building complex. The library was a popular stop, and the public asked a lot of questions, some of which I could answer, and some I couldn’t. One of the questions was “when did a woman first sit on a jury in Scotland?”. What was the answer? I had no idea! I knew it would have to be around about the time women first got the vote, but I didn’t know how closely tied that was to women sitting on juries, or what the process of female jurors being authorised was.

So, I decided to find out. I couldn’t find any ready information on ladies in Scottish juries (although this resource is very helpful for information on English lady jurors), so I thought I’d do a bit of digging in the newspapers of the time. Because it’s awesome, the National Library of Scotland has a wealth of electronic resources available remotely to residents of Scotland. I knew that it had a variety of newspaper resources, and for the time period I was looking at (1918 – 1928), The Scotsman Digital Archive was perfect, so I went hunting through it. It has an Edinburgh bias, but covers news from all over Scotland, the UK and the world, so it should be a reliable resource. So I somehow ended up down a rabbit hole of newspaper articles, letters to the editor, and teeth-grindingly patronising attitudes about the “weaker sex”. This is not an academic review, rather a review of newspaper reports available at the time – hopefully this is of interest!

 

Legislative history and implementation

Ladies have been able to sit on juries in the UK since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 came into force. On August 9th 1920, a Bill was introduced to regulate how “Scottish women jurors” would be introduced and managed in the courts (1). The resulting Jurors (Enrolment of Women) (Scotland) Act was given Royal Assent on 16th August 1920, with a timescale of no more than 6 months for it to be brought into effect: “new lists of jurors shall be prepared and come into use in every county within six months after the passing of this Act”. The Court of Session passed an Act of Sederunt regulating the procedure for juries with women on 7th February 1921 (2), and in advance of the February 1921 deadline, in Edinburgh in December 1920 Sheriff Crole instructed the Sheriff Clerk to create a new jurors roll for the city and county, including eligible men and women, and 27,500 circulars were issued (3). The citations for the Edinburgh Sheriff Court were the first to be issued, and there was discussion of the potential for lady jurors to be cited for duty in the 14th March 1921 trial of “the alleged Sinn Fein prisoners” (4).

 

England

Ladies sat for first time at the Old Bailey in London on 11th January 1921 (5). Soon after, they sat in a divorce court (the Allen case) as part of a mixed jury on 25th January 1921 (6). The lady jurors of the divorce case had some of the letters and photos that were submitted as evidence withheld from them at the suggestion of the judge, and a member of the bar excused himself from describing them to them, as they were  ”too revolting for women to hear” (7).

 

Scotland

The first female jurors in Scotland sat in Edinburgh Sheriff Court on the 10th of March 1921. The case involved the theft of grain from a warehouse in Leith (8). The text below is from the Scotsman report on the event, from the 11th March 1921 (9).

“Jury Women

Pioneers of the New Order in Edinburgh

Time is a revolutionary in its treatment of the law courts and their procedure. The impression was created by a visit to an upper room in Edinburgh Sheriff Court House yesterday. From a first glance the previous visit might have been the day before; as a matter of fact, the interval was wide. Women for the first time in the city sat on a jury. The gentler sex have been petitioners, Portia’s and other characters in the dramas of the Courts; now they entered into the prerogative of the men, and shared the duty of weighing evidence and returning verdicts. The half-dozen women summoned were in plenty of time for the proceedings, and after all had answered to the roll-call, they smiled and waited the fate of the ballot, for, of course, more were called than need be chosen.

They were to hear one of the statutory inquiries into a number of fatal accidents, and for that purpose a jury of seven had to be empanelled. The first name drawn was that of a man, and finally, when the seven citizens “good and true” had been called, they included three ladies, one of whom was married. From the point of view of the visual amenities of the courtroom, the presence of the ladies in fur and feathers on the jurors’ benches was no disadvantage. “Jury men and jury women” said the Sheriff Principal to those whose services were not required, “I thank you for your attendance, and you are now at liberty to go.” Did a momentary disappointment cloud the brow of the women who were left out? At any rate, one lady lingered on to watch the proceedings, possibly with the idea that they may serve better next time who only sit and wait. Others made a quick exit, and one woman, basket on arm, with may be a presentiment that things would turn out so, was perhaps able to carry out a shopping plan after all.

Then there were unfolded for the mixed jury five stories of the casualties which occur periodically in the great army of industry. There were pit accidents, those tragedies which occur in the subterranean darkness where the coal is won; there was a brickworks fatality in which a man was apparently struck down suddenly by the machinery. For the examination of the causes and circumstances of these cases the women had to follow narratives by witnesses which were at times necessarily technical, but they gave the statements their close attention from first to last. They seemed keenly interested in their new job, and though every case had the angel of death in the background, they did not shirk the saddening details upon which the presence in the Court of other women in black – from the homes where the blows had fallen – was a realistic commentary. For a first experience, their judicial functions were, however, comparatively light, for the verdicts in these inquiries are usually formal. In certain of the cases questions of fault were raised, but, on the suggestion of the Sheriff, who pointed out the possibility of other proceedings in regard to them, the jury returned open verdicts. The women discussed the evidence with their male colleagues on the jury, and through a sitting which lasted for three and a half hours were alert listeners to evidence and observers of procedure. At the close, Sheriff Crole thanked the jury for their services, and commented upon the first appearance of women in their new role, and expressed the hope that the long sitting had not been too much for them.”

Female jurors were expected to first sit in Glasgow Sheriff Court on the 15th of March 1921 (10) and the first lady jurors in the Court of Session sat on the 17th of March 1921 (11), before Lord Sands. “The case submitted to the jury, whom counsel addressed as “members of the jury” had reference to a claim for damages arising out of a Leith tram-car accident.” This case appears to be unreported, notable only for the jurors rather than the legal points.The first mixed jury sat in Glasgow Sheriff Court on the 21st of March 1921 (12).

The first murder trial with female jurors in Scotland was heard in Perth on the 5th of April 1921 (13).

 

Reception of female jurors

Although there is regular reference to the belief that women sitting on juries is an experiment, and that it would be “reconsidered by Parliament”(14), it soon became settled that women were regular participants in juries. The advent of women jurors seems to generally have been received with equanimity in Scotland.

Prior to their introduction in Scotland, a case in West Bromwich Sessions was a topic of discussion in December 1920 (15), as the female jurors had been objected to due to their “inexperience”. A response by a Dora Rees in the letters page a few days later pointed out that the onus in that situation was not on the jurors to have experience, but on the judge to manage the case properly, and asked “what experience or legal knowledge a juror is supposed to have?”(16).

An editorial in The Scotsman, regarding the withholding of the “revolting” evidence in the English divorce case which female jurors sat on, was not impressed with the action of the Judge in the case in doing so.They point out that “in the operating wards of our hospitals, in the mixed classes of our medical schools, neither nurses nor women medical students nor anyone else are embarrassed by false prudery”(17).

A group of Scottish women’s organisations wrote to the Scotsman to protest about the way the judge in the Allen divorce case had handled the issue of having women on the jury. They stated that the distinction made by the judge between male and female jurors was “highly improper, and stands in the way of women jurors being able to carry out their work efficiently, and that this would be likely to lead to the service of women on juries being discredited, and even falling into desuetude”(18).

Discussions at a meeting of the Edinburgh Women Citizen’s Association on February 24th 1921 were interesting (19). J Robertson Christie, Principal Clerk of Justiciary was supportive of the idea that women jurors could be useful in certain types of cases (namely those involving other women or children as witnesses), but was more dubious about their value otherwise. This was not due to objections to the idea of women serving, but because the speaker preferred an option where “public-spirited, trained women who felt themselves qualified to be of use in this particular department of citizenship might have volunteered to have their names placed upon a roll from which jury women might be summoned.” The meeting also poured scorn upon the actions of the judge in the English divorce case of the previous month, stating that “If there happened here in a civil trial what happened in a trial in England not long ago – when certain parts of the evidence were withheld because they were supposed to be too revolting for them – the verdict would be set aside, because no jury was entitled to assume the functions of the jury which was not prepared to decide upon the evidence.”

In a “Letter to the Editor” by a Charles A Salmond in October 1921 expressed a variety of objections to female jurors (20). One point was that of the “propriety of dragging gentlewomen of retiring and refined instinct” onto juries for “often nasty” cases. He was also concerned about how a woman juror would cope with having to “disregard…her feelings and all of her home ties and duties”, while claiming that he did “not presume to refer to the mentality of ladies or to suggest one thing or the other about their capacity” to sit effectively as jurors. Instead, he claimed that women were physically unsuited to sit as jurors, and this could lead to new juries constantly having to be summoned, as woman after woman would swoon away when exposed to the physical hardships of…sitting in a jury box. He conceded that there “may be cases in which women jurors may very appropriately serve”, but he urged that “the new system should be drastically modified”.

Rebuttals of the previous concerns regarding the delicate nature of women and the problem of them being exposed to distasteful evidence were regular.

Mrs Seaton-Tiedeman, Secretary of the Divorce Reform Law Union said that “nowhere were women more needed than in the Courts of the country”, and that expecting women to be innocent was unwise, as “knowledge is a great protection” (21).

In April 1922, there is an exchange of letters between J Forbes Moncrieff, who declares that judging “from the conversation of women generally” saying that “very few of them have the slightest desire to serve as jurors”(22), and Dora Rees of the Edinburgh Women Citizens’ Association rebuts his statements, saying “the same conclusion may be drawn from the conversations of men generally” (23). Moncrieff responds, asserting that he has “a strong conviction that I speak for a large number of women” when he claims that men are better suited for jury work (24). He continued in his conviction that women were unsuited for jury work, and should only do it voluntarily, with another letter to The Scotsman in November 1824. He asserted that he believed that the female jurors in a recent case “like many (possibly most) women, were serving in this capacity very unwillingly” (25). Dora Rees appears to have give up responding to him after her letter in April, and I can’t say I blame her: J. Forbes Moncrieff is unshakeable in his manly conviction that he speaks for the silent majority of women! Instead, “A Woman Citizen” responded to that letter, stating that “women of clean mind and habit are the best agents yet discovered for clearing away filth, and that they shrink from such work has not deterred them from doing it all down the ages” (26). Whether A Woman Citizen was Dora Rees is unknown, but J. Forbes Moncrieff did not respond to this letter. Perhaps he finally accepted that he was not qualified to speak on behalf of all women? In support of A Woman Citizen’s response, a letter from “A. Mother” on 1 December 1924 seconds her previous comments, and refutes the “sad view” that “women will be contaminated by hearing filthy evidence”(27).

It appears that sitting as a juror was initially something that ladies could excuse themselves from when asked by the judge if they wanted to do so, but this was not something that was occurring in Scotland. Those being tried also apparently had the right to object to female jurors hearing their case, and if this happened, they were dismissed. Again, this does not appear to have happened in Scotland, with mention of defendants objecting to female jurors all relating to English cases. Another concern was how to address female jurors, as “gentlemen of the jury” was no longer accurate, so “members of the jury” seems to have taken its place (28).

By 1923, female jurors seems to be firmly established as a part of normal court business in Scotland, sitting on a variety of cases. The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Alness, praised female jurors in a speech to the Associated Societies of the University of Edinburgh in January 1923 (29):

“Touching on public service rendered by women, Lord Alness remarked that it was not too much to say that their position vis a vis of the State, had within recent years been revolutionised. Now, in the exercise of the franchise, in the practice of the professions, in Parliament and outside of it, they were substantially on the same footing as men. He had been very much struck recently by the service rendered by women upon juries – particularly in criminal cases. They sat a few weeks ago on numerous juries at the High Court in Glasgow, and they dealt competently and sympathetically with some of the most difficult and terrible cases which had come within the range of his professional experience. He was satisfied that in dealing in particular with cases where young children were concerned, their services were quite invaluable.”

And entertainingly, by January 1922, you could have placed a bet on a Lady Juror…in the Victoria Cup at Hurst (30). She appears to have had quite a successful career: by September 1922 she won the Jockey Club Sweepstakes at Newmarket (31), and was still winning five years later at Lingfield in 1927 (32).

It looks like the Lady Juror was definitely a good long-term bet 😉

 

  1. Jurors (Enrolment of Women) (Scotland) Act 1920, Ch 53, Royal Assent 16th August 1920, coming into force no later than 6 months after Royal Assent = mid-February 1921
  2. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 07 Feb 1921: 7
  3. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 14 Dec 1920: 3
  4. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 04 Mar 1921: 4
  5. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 12 Jan 1921: 6
  6. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 26 Jan 1921: 7
  7. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 29 Jan 1921: 8
  8. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 19 Mar 1921: 8
  9. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 11 Mar 1921: 4
  10. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 15 Mar 1921: 4
  11. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 18 Mar 1921: 4
  12. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 15 Mar 1921: 4
  13. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 06 Apr 1921: 7
  14. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 29 Jan 1921: 11
  15. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 07 Dec 1920: 6
  16. Rees, Dora. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 11 Dec 1920: 13
  17. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 29 Jan 1921: 8
  18. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 05 Feb 1921: 9
  19. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 25 Feb 1921: 3
  20. CHARLES A SALMOND D D. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 12 Oct 1921: 10
  21. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 29 Jan 1921: 11
  22. J FORBES MONCRIEFF. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 08 Apr 1922: 13
  23. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 14 Apr 1922: 7
  24. J FORBES MONCRIEFF. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 18 Apr 1922: 6
  25. J FORBES MONCRIEFF. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 27 Nov 1924: 7
  26. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 28 Nov 1924: 5
  27. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 01 Dec 1924: 5
  28. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 18 Mar 1921: 4
  29. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 18 Jan 1923: 9
  30. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 27 Jan 1922: 3
  31. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 29 Sep 1922: 4
  32. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland [Edinburgh, Scotland] 14 Apr 1927: 8

 

 

Tips for the traumatised: surviving administration and mergers

Let me begin by confessing: I am not a law firm lucky charm. I’ve worked for 2 different firms over a period of 18 months, both of which went into administration or merged with another firm, which left me unemployed twice in a short period of time.

Unfortunately, my story isn’t unusual: changes in the legal market mean that these sort of events will happen more and more frequently, especially in the mid-sized law firms. My Nostradamus moment now is to predict that most mid-sized firms won’t exist within 5 years, as they get eaten up by the bigger firms, or split down into smaller, niche firms.

So if you’re working in a small or mid-sized firm: you’re in a very risky position right now. So what can you do to both plan for the potential experience of having a job that disappears, and to get through it successfully? I’m going to give you some tips on what to do, when, and how to get through this. And I’ll be honest: a lot of this is unpleasant, but you can get through to the other side intact.

Before changes

See the signs: You need to be plugged into the internal gossip machine, for your own benefit. People talk – it’s wise to listen, and look for the oddities that signal problems. Listen for fee-earner gossip: are junior staff in all sorts of departments complaining about not being able to meet their target for billable hours because there’s just not enough work being passed to them? Are partners hiding in their rooms or working from home, to avoid having to really speak to their teams? Watch out for those odd “partners from different departments who don’t normally have anything to do with each other” meetings starting to happen. Secretaries being asked to block out many hours in diaries for people…with no client meetings or reasons given. Or the all partner, off-site meetings…that go on for two days. Librarians at other firms that may be merger partners will be noticing odd activities too, or may have been asked to research your firms finances. Make sure you’re open with your professional network about unusual activities at your firm, as it gives other information professionals the chance to volunteer information that they’ve gathered. There will also be a mysteriously delayed issuing of the annual accounts, with various “interesting” excuses being given, and getting more abrupt as the lateness increases. There will be firm denials in the press by management of there being any trouble internally. Credit checking companies will be red flagging you as a risk because you pay bills so late. Suppliers will not be being paid, but you will only find this out if you contact them directly to check, or they contact you to complain, because your Finance department will insist that they’ve been paid. Honest. Cross their heart.

Prepare for the worst: go through your work, and identify your useful/transferable work. Gather non-sensitive work you have produced/remove to cloud storage if possible. If you can’t move it off your firms network by upload, try and get a record of it some other way: download, screenshot or photograph it. The administrators or merger managers are not interested in the work of support staff – it will be ignored during these processes, and holds no financial value for them. The only value it holds is for you, for the future, for generic activities such as training materials you’ve developed for educating internal users on subscription databases. ( Disclaimer one – Only you can make the decision on what materials it is legal for you to remove. Disclaimer two – some of these content tools might be blocked by your employer.). If you don’t have one already, get a “professional” email address (gmail is fine) – if your name/initials combination isn’t available, create one using information and knowledge-related terms. Move all account contacts to the new account: social media, mailing lists, LinkedIn etc. You can’t predict when your access to your work email will stop.

Prepare for the best: It may well be that any merger partner firm needs information staff, so there could be a place for you in a new structure. However, like any other employer, they’ll want you to be able to prove to them that you’re good at what you do, and your salary will take that into account. So now is a good time to gather statistics and evidence to show what you do, and what you can do. If you charge out for your time, gather the information that shows exactly what money you’ve brought in. Equip yourself with any facts or figures that help you to make a business case to demonstrate why you and/or your team are an asset.

Make yourself visible to the world: if you aren’t already using social media, now is the time to start. Create a Twitter profile, where you can show your awareness of relevant issues by tweeting links or discussing them with others. Most importantly, create a LinkedIn account, and make sure you organise it to show your best skills and achievements (LinkedIn content layout can be personalised). This is useful for both internal and external promotional purposes: if your firm is going into administration, other law firms need to be able to see immediately what your skills are, and why you’d be an asset. If you’re merging, you want to be able to easily give the takeover firm as much information about your usefulness as possible. They won’t know about the awesome projects you’ve been responsible for internally, they’re highly unlikely to actually come to you to ask about your skills, so you need a place they can look at that hosts all your achievements, to be able to show them. Ask colleagues to endorse you for useful activities – people will be doing their best to help you, so agree the text in advance to ensure it shows your best skills in the best way.

Build up an application bank: create a variety of clear descriptions of your specialist and transferable skills. If you struggle with this, ask workmates to identify what they think your key skills and achievements are. Use these to help speed up the process when applying for jobs by tying these relevant phrases to frequently requested skills. Create a tailored base CV for each role type you’re targeting, drawing out different elements of your skills as appropriate.

Expand your vocabulary: yes, right now you’re a specialist librarian, but your skills are also incredibly wide-ranging and your employment prospects are too. You’re experienced in doing targeted research: use those skills now on your own behalf – compile a list of search terms and work them on search engines! Develop a level of awareness of key potential employers, and start monitoring vacancies before you may think you’ll need to actually apply to anything – knowing how long jobs are advertised for, and how quickly after they appear they can disappear, can help focus you on being prepared and able to apply for jobs as quickly as possible after they’re advertised. Be organised about your applications: a spreadsheet helps manage and prioritise relevant jobs (and ensures you know when your submission deadlines are). It didn’t used to be easy, but it’s far more achievable now to move between a variety of sectors, as” information management” becomes more clearly recognised as a relevant skill, rather than being buried within the term “librarian”. Jobs I was interviewed for: Open Access Publications Assistant, eHealth Project Officer; Grants Officer; Awards Administrator; Research and Information Officer, Contracts Manager, Information Officer; Research and Information Specialist, Legal and Business Intelligence Analyst, and another Project Officer. And don’t rule out the Intelligence Services too – I won’t say how far I got in their application process, but let’s just say your skills at assessing information sources and extracting relevant information from them are useful in all sorts of roles! 😉

During changes

Don’t be ignored: if your firm is merging, nobody will be sparing a thought for you, or about asking you to be involved in any discussions. This creates a huge risk that your department and team will be forgotten about in the frantic activity that goes on during the merger process. This is the point to start jumping up and down in front of the right people, with big signs pointing towards you that say “I’m wonderful!”. If you have a library partner, you can try and get them to ensure that you’re involved in relevant discussions, but remember, you will never be their priority, they have a “core” team that they will be trying to ensure are safe first, before they can spare any time or energy to help you.

Focus your energy: In a merger I was involved in, we began the process of creating the business case for our retention in the new firm, but quickly decided to use our energy in looking for employment externally when we realised from discussions with the library staff on the other side that there was no intention of moving my team across.

Play nice: if your firm is merging/being taken over, make sure that the information professionals on the other side of the merger get all the information they need from you, as soon as possible. Spend any time needed to tidy up your materials, both physically and digitally – it’s good manners and reflects well on you professionally, and at this point your professional reputation is one of your main assets. Contact your suppliers directly if you can: they will have questions about your subscriptions and services, and you can give them the appropriate information on who to contact, and a realistic assessment of the chances of them receiving payment or a subscription being continued. Again, being polite and helpful to people, especially when you don’t have to be, means that your professional reputation is enhanced with people who may be of use to you in future.

After changes

Professional support: this is the bad bit – there is none, in practical terms. You will watch as the lawyers are offered hardship funds and training support from their professional bodies and groups, and their professional bodies issue press releases to the media about how excellent they are, and how quickly they’ve all been re-employed, but there will be nothing equivalent for you from any of the professional bodies you may be a member of. Sympathy, yes, but no practical help. You’re on your own.

State support: the Job Centre staff will not be of any help. They do not know what to do with specialist librarians. Even your existence baffles them. Learn about the various rules, procedures, and entitlements available to you, but expect no actual, direct help: you’re on your own. Again.

Network and talk: You will almost certainly feel traumatised by these processes, either insolvency or redundancy. Learn to separate your sense of worth from your employment – you are not responsible for what happened to you. Tell people what happened (while maintaining a professional “I don’t blame anyone” front). Make people aware you need employment. Let them help you. Be active on LinkedIn (and be amused at the ridiculous amount of people who’ll check out your profile during this period).

Now, this isn’t a foolproof guide, just an attempt to give anyone facing what I’ve been through a bit of guidance, help, and support to know that it’s survivable. Others who have been through similar situations have had input into this too, so hopefully, it’s now as useful a collation of information as it can be.

And finally, just remember: illegitimi non carborundum.

Not a job I’d envy!

There was a motion proposed last week by the Magistrate’s Association in England and Wales, to end the swearing of oaths in court on the bible and other holy books. Although the motion was defeated, there was a sentence that caught my eye:

Had the motion been passed, it would probably have needed the approval of parliament to bring the change about.

The previous version of the story mentioned it in this way:

The practice is so old that it is not clear whether it is simply custom or if Parliament would have to change it.

And

Oaths sworn on the Bible are old enough for the Magistrates’ Association to be unsure whether they are mere custom and practice or whether they were laid down by law.

So, whatever the decision in Cardiff, it might need the approval of Parliament to bring the change about.

 I found this quite unusual: changes to the law were being proposed, but the people proposing the changes didn’t actually know how they would go about changing it! Even in the final version of the story, the most informative that the writer could be about how the law would have been changed if the vote had approved it, was saying it would “probably” be done via Parliament!

I’m just glad I wasn’t the law librarian being asked to research when the Bible and holy book oaths had first been used in the courts, and under which powers they had been created!

From a conference to an unconference

So, between Thursday 13th June and Saturday 15th June, I attended the annual BIALL conference in Glasgow, thanks to the help of a generous bursary from BIALL. Now, due to funding restrictions with my previous employer, I’d not been able to attend this event since 2008. As this is the main professional event for the UK legal information sector, I always felt frustrated that I was missing out on being somewhere where important developments were being discussed, and that I wasn’t getting to make the connections with people that I should.

However, since 2008, lots of things have changed, especially in the way people who are effectively strangers to each other can communicate. Basically: Twitter happened.

Now, through Twitter, I feel like I have an excellent network of contacts both within my sector and outside it, and as I restrict the amount of people I follow/allow to follow me, I feel I really know them quite well. So when I need help with anything, I can ask my contacts, and get a good range of trustworthy responses. This has also meant that, when I got to the conference this year, I already “knew” (from Twitter interactions) a large number of people. Of course, meeting in person is great to allow the cementing and further development of these online relationships, but the ice was already broken on these relationships by initial online contact.

So, what was the conference useful for, beyond the development of professional relationships? It was a chance to attend talks and sessions on areas of legal activity that were of interest to me. The only problem with this was, although the talks were often good in content, the format of a conference means that you just don’t get the time to discuss topics in details. You have a speaker, who speaks, and then answers a few questions from the audience. It’s a discussion, but it’s only with one person. There’s a certain amount you can learn, but it’s only from one person, and anything that others in the audience may have to contribute is filtered out by time and format restrictions. Also, it’s a discussion being held solely with legal information professionals: a subset of a profession only talking to itself about itself isn’t particularly healthy!

Therefore, after discussions with some other attendees, I had an idea, and made a suggestion to some of the Committee members of the Scottish Law Librarians Group. I suggested that we try and create a Scots Law Unconference, to enable professionals working in Scots law to interact with each other, across all sectors, not just those working as information professionals, but academics, government staff, and legal practitioners. It’s just the beginnings of an idea at the moment, but I think that there’s a real lack of a space for people working in Scots law to have contact with people in other areas of the law, which means you can become very blinkered about what factors are impacting on not only your own work, but that of others working in law too. There’s also the problem with the standard conference format, in that it’s set up to enable one person to teach a group about their topic/experiences, rather than allow a group to discuss and learn from each other around a theme. I know there was some frustration at BIALL at the lack of an opportunity to do just that (although in one case, discussing Open Access in academia, a lunchtime discussion meeting was set up informally), so an Unconference format, with a body/group guiding the discussions themes would be more conducive to this type of sharing. As the main body for legal information professionals in Scotland, with members in various workplaces and sectors, the SLLG would be well placed to investigate the possibilities of an event like this and host it, welcoming any participants with an interest in Scots law.

It might take a bit of effort to get it off the ground, and the format might not suit everybody, but if it doesn’t work out…well, at least we tried, right? And if nobody ever tries, nothing every changes.

Now….anyone out there want to volunteer a lovely venue to the SLLG, and perhaps some nice sponsorship 😉

Law books ain’t cheap

Certain old law books are very, very expensive (like this one).

Certain new law books are also very, very expensive. This book has slipped from its original publication date by about 3 years so far, so there’s no guarantee that it will actually be coming out in November this year, as currently promised. But just look at that price.
£785.
Yes: that’s not a typo. It actually costs £785 for a single volume of a single book.
It has 568 pages. 
That’s £1.38 per page.
Law book prices are just insane sometimes.
 

It’s not just librarians who suffer from stereotyping

Unfortunately, lawyers get it too…and one of the best (for best, read “irritating and patronising”) ones is the Legally Blonde female lawyer.

Y’know – that attractive yet dumb blonde girl who floats through life, until an major event makes her re-evaluate everything, and then she works her socks off to show everyone how smart she really is?

Seems like the BBC have been watching a few too many repeats of that film recently, judging from their reporting of this story (although Legally Blonde isn’t specifically mentioned in the report).

Look: she’s blonde!
Look: she’s pretty!
Look: she used to work in a beauty-based job! That means she must be stupid!
Look: she went to court to battle on her Mum’s behalf! Isn’t that an unexpected event!
Look: she’s studied to become a lawyer! And excelled at her studies!
Look: she’s actually really, really smart! Who could have imagined?

Dear god – all it needs is her bust size, and a hint that she’ll be sleeping with powerful people in law firms in order to get a job, and it could be a Daily Mail report.

Really, BBC, is this the best way you could report this? The undertone of surprise that someone female, blonde and pretty could also actually be really rather intelligent, and able to make full use of an amazing opportunity when it’s presented to her, is quite disturbing. For a profession that’s working its socks off to try and address inequalities in the representation of women, this sort of patronising reporting undermines everything that women in law have worked so hard to get…you know, that small thing called “recognition of their equal skills”?

Keeping (t)ABS on England

It’s all change at the moment in Englandshire law firms, and what happens in England no longer stays in England. Alternative Business Structures (ABS) are all the rage, and after a gradual run up period where firms could register interest in the conversion to ABS status (with mainly personal injury firms (PI) and smaller firms doing so, some large businesses such as BT and the Co-operative group being an exception), now they’re actually real – the first three groups to be approved as ABS’ were announced on the 28th March 2012.
Mid tier and larger firms in England seems to be adopting a “wait and see approach”, watching how the smaller, more adaptable firms (and also therefore possibly those who are more hungry for a cash-injection) fare before committing themselves to any tie-ups with investors. The existing large bodies like the Co-operative Group are big enough, and well funded enough to push on and expand their existing legal services in their own direction.
The reaction to this business option in England is likely to be a good predictor of the impact of the Legal Services (Scotland)Act 2010 in Scottish law firms. The Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 will allow 49% non-solicitor ownership of law firms in Scotland when brought fully into force. The regulations involved in the implementation of the 2010 Act are being drafted at the moment, and will be consulted on in two lots, in the Spring and Autumn of 2012.
The recently concluded Scottish Government consultation on ABS in Scotlandfound that most respondents favoured the inclusion of accountants as “regulated professionals” (those who are authorised alongside solicitors to own the majority, 51% share of the company), which raises the prospect of law firms co-owned by solicitors and accountants. It’s yet to be decided what the actual professions authorised to have ownership of a law firm alongside solicitors will be.
And what sort of changes are likely for cross border Scots/English law firms? Will it be more beneficial to become an ABS under one regime than the other? And how do law firms traditionally owned by, in effect, their staff, change to a culture where they’re partially owned by, and accountable to, external funders?
So, to see what a future Scottish law firm could look like, for the next year, we can watch to see how English firms deal with it…
Popcorn, anyone?