Monday, 28 March 2011

Could be the day I might need a good lawyer

A couple of weeks ago, I took part in a legal moot. I learned on Tuesday that I'd passed it (as required to graduate). Today, I received my evaluation. I've included it below. I reckon the assessments are all fair, and perhaps on the generous side. I would probably have scored better had I stuck to my prepared speech. But, as I was senior counsel for the respondents, I spoke last. Which gave me nearly 40 minutes listening to the arguments of the other three counsel, during which I realised that I had a far better defence, indeed, an unbeatable one, if I took a different tack. 

As a result, I essentially rewrote my speech during the reclaimer’s senior counsel's speech. Which meant that my speech, in the end, was mostly extempore mixture of my initial speech, which focused on applying the Caparo rules, with the aim of distinguishing Gibson (and pleading no negligence), and my new argument, which essentially denied any duty of care altogether (on the grounds that there was no identifiable group to whom an offer of protection had been made) . So I was a probably more than a little garbled, and also a little rushed, as I was, to a large degree, thinking on my feet.

Structure/content of legal argument/formulation into appropriate submissions  
Good legal content. 
Structure could have been improved slightly. 
Particularly good arguments re: the present facts.
Use of authorities
Gibson well distinguished, cases cited well.
Presentation and teamwork  
Presentation and teamwork generally proficient. 
Try to slow down slightly, esp. with most important arguments.
Response to judge's interventions  
Excellent, well explained responses to interventions
General advocacy skills  
Generally convincing argument throughout, could have been improved slightly, as above.
Total 20/25

In the end, I actually rather enjoyed the experience. The standing up and presenting the case was the most fun part; the slog beforehand in the library, hunting down citations and cases, wasn't nearly as exciting, although it was challenging. But if I hadn't done that to prepare, I'd not have had my inspiration while listening to the other speeches. I may even do it all again - voluntarily.

Elsewhere on the course, today I had my last Property and Obligations lecture. Next week, I have two Roman Law lectures, one Family Law, and a couple of tutorials. And that's the teaching over for the year. All I have to do before the end of the academic year are three assignments - Family, and Unjustified Enrichment problems, and a Legal Methods exercise on the Cadder judgement. Oh, and just after Easter, there are three exams: Roman Law, Delict, and Public Law & Government. But once all that's over, I'll be halfway though the LLB - and heading towards my final year.

But between then and now, there's the long summer vac. And I still lack any kind of work, never mind a legal placement. Bother!

I'm very tired, and my head is almost full.

Monday, 28 February 2011

It's a legal matter. baby

I'm involved in in a Moot. It's part of the degree, and I have to make decent fist of it in order to pass the Private Law class. But it's ungraded - just a pass, or fail. When I mentioned it before, it seemed to be a reasonable way off. That way off is now looking horribly short. Just two full days, in fact. Thursday morning, to be precise. Not that I, and my junior, haven't done a good deal of research on the matter. But it's such a step into the unknown. It's not an essay; nor is it a presentation; it's an oral argument. It has to be flexible, and dynamic, and respond to the points made by the reclaimers, and deal with questions from the judge. So, this morning, as required, I submitted our list of authorities:
Alexandrou v Oxford [1993] 4 All E.R. 328 
Dorset Yacht Co v Home Office [1970] AC 1004
Gibson v Orr 1999 SC 420
Gilfillan v Barbour 2003 SLT 1127
Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1989] AC 53
They don't seem to be at too great a variance from the Reclaimer's (appellant to Englishers) authorities:
Gibson v Orr 1999 SC 420
Dorset Yacht Co Ltd v Home Office [1970] AC 1004
Police (Scotland) Act 1967
Muir v Glasgow Corporation 1943 SC (HL) 3
Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1989] AC 53
There weren't any surprises in there, fortunately, so they haven't found anything obscure, but devastating, that we'd missed. Although I am intrigued as to what they've found of use in the Police (S) Act that that that they can't get from Gibson. Seems like a waste of of a slot to me, as we're only allowed a scant five authorities each. And Muir looks to be a slightly odd choice, as it's mainly about negligence, foreseeability, and owner's liability, which doesn't quite seem in point here.

So, all we have to do now is try to make a decent case from the facts & authorities, work out, and respond to, what the Reclaimer's case is likely to be, and present it well, standing on our hind legs, while being harried by a cantankerous judge. The whole hearing is scheduled to take about one hour. The only bright spot is that only counsel and the judge will be present - no audience is allowed.

I think I'll be getting properly suited & booted (but no gowns, or wigs) to argue the case. Looking the part might help, and assist in achieving the correct level of expected formality, especially in addressing his Lordship; as might being the oldest in the court by about 20 years! And my junior is a 4th year Czech Law student, on an Erasmus exchange, while the Reclaimers are but 18 year old first years. We ought to win, really...

Saturday, 22 January 2011

A brave new year

Since I last made any entry here, Christmas has come and gone, 2010 has ground to a close, and a brand new 2011 has arrived. Re: Christmas, well, I spent the day itself alone, wrapped in a duvet, occasionally throwing up. Festive dinner was a solitary bowl of instant Korean kimchi noodles, at 11pm. And, other than baiting the Professor (of English & Drama) who was house guest over the season, and avoiding the small pieces of plastic his son scattered everywhere, very little of any note occurred.

A couple of weeks back, second semester started. Which means I am now over 25% of the way through my LLB. And I still know almost nothing about the law. Which was amply illustrated earlier this week, when the first semester results came out. Three exams at the end of last term. First Criminal Law and Evidence. I knew I had done a poor paper, and so the D3 (a third) result wasn't a great shock. Although it was still a little disappointing, as it will stand as my only result in criminal law, not having any honours papers to improve in. Contract, a subject I am rather more happy contemplating, went rather better, as I correctly noted at the time. A B3, which in common parlance is a reasonable 2i. But that's not a final mark yet (unlike criminal), as it has to be combined with the A5 from last term's Property, and the as-yet unsat Delict exam, and an Unjustified Enrichment essay that will both be done later this semester. These four together comprising "Property and Obligations" (ie private law). Lastly, there was the multiple choice examinette on Legal Systems. Which I thought I had done rather well in. And so I had: 28/30. Although, until I pointed out an error in the marking, it was only 27/30. Rather pleasingly, pointing this error out (and getting it corrected) lifted three fellow students into the pass bracket (60%, or 18/30). Not that this exam matters very much; it's a simple pass/fail, and a pass is required to be granted any credit for "Sources and Institutions of Scots Law", which is a portmanteau course of public law, the legal system, and legal methods.

So, it looks like I can actually do this law thing. Although some bits I do better than others. This semester, I continue with more private law (the aforementioned delict, and unjustified enrichment), and even more public law, with added Roman law, and Family law. Mostly fun, although family law is shaping up to be a rather dull traipse though modern legislation. Still, on the bright side, there's no criminal - where the stories were always good, but the law itself was baffling.

Monday, 13 December 2010

A matter of obligations...

It's true what they tell you about law school students not having any life outside the law school. Well, maybe the undergrads do, but the accelerated crew don't. Today, no sooner had we finished our Contract exam then we regrouped for coffee, bacon rolls, and a run through, and tear-down, of last year's paper for the next exam. The next exam being Scottish Legal Institutions.

Anyway, yes, today's exam. Contract. The lost shoals of many a poor student. Only an hour and a half, with one compulsory case, with the usual convoluted narrative and cast of unlikely characters doing various silly things (although I gather they do even sillier things in Delict [like tort, for Southerners and USonians] questions). It was slightly easier than usual, as (to pull up the grades I assume) the question posed, after setting out the narrative, was rather more directed than the usual "comment on the legal nature of the obligations entered into above, particularly the remedies available to X". This year, it was phrased as three, fairly pointed, questions. Then one of three two-part questions about various aspects of Contract law, each requiring a quick summary of the case law on the point in question.

All in all, on both questions, I think I manage tolerably well, and I was rather pleased to extract a goodly number of halfway relevant cases from my addled brain. For some of them I even managed to remember the parties names! All in all, I'm fairly confident I've passed, but, as usual, I have no idea by how much.

So, roll on Thursday, and the end of the exam season, so Christmas can start. And tomorrow, I have a meeting with Brodies LLP, with a view to a summer placement. Well, I hope I do, as it's already been cancelled twice, because of the bad weather, and it was rather cold and frosty at Hogwarts on campus this morning, so...

Friday, 10 December 2010

Punishment for the Crime

Today, I sat an exam on Criminal Law and Evidence. I don't think I've ever before sat a university exam in which one was expected to write long and hard about strap-on dildos. That oddity apart, it went much as expected, three questions from five. The usual mixture of crimes of property, violence, and sex, with diversions into evidence, and defences. But not the expected question on fraud (well, unless you count the "sexual deception" one), but one about attempted robbery instead.

I manage to answer my quota, and I think I covered the main points of each in a reasonably coherent and comprehensive way. But, again, like the Property exam, my weak little brain flat refused to divulge the names, or details, of the relevant authorities, so it's just a little light on them. Which will put a clear upper bound on the grade I can get. But I'm not going to try to predict that, this time. Not after having got it so wrong last time. That said, I don't hold out too much hope of being as pleasantly surprised this time.

Ah, well. Now, a quick trip to the pub, sleep. and then into a two-day blast, trying to consolidate all the Contract law I can, before regurgitating it on Monday morning. Hopefully, Scotrail will deign to run some trains on time, or, indeed, at all, so I can get to the exam before it starts this time.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Examination in chief, redux

From this entry, about my first law exam, on Property (the principles of). Anyway, there I opined, honestly, that "[b]eing pessimistic, it's probably a third, if I'm lucky". Clearly, I'm both pessimistic, and more than lucky, as the paper was graded A5. The marking scheme gloss on that is "[a]n [weakly] excellent performance"; it's a first in normal university speak (albeit a poor one). To say I'm astonished is an understatement. Because this exam is both a "formative" and "summative" assessment, I will get the script back, but I haven't yet retrieved it (or the Criminal essay) from the pigeon holes, deep in the bowels of the Stair Building, because of the snow (and ScotRail's inability to cope with it), so I have no idea how I managed to achieve such an erratic result (I've never had a first in an exam before, to the best of my knowledge).

Now I have to get down to the serious work of revising for the imminent Contract, Criminal, and Constitutional law exams.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

First impressions?

Well, I got my first law essay back (Law & Government). I was ill, so I wrote it in a couple of free hours, one morning, with no real research, relying almost entirely on my old Politics training. I still got a B2, so I'm fairly happy with that. And the first sentence of the critique: "You write very clearly". Now, that's not something I've been accused of before!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Examination in chief

Well, that's my first degree exam in 25 years over and done. On the subject of Scots Property Law. Just one problem question (of two). I think I covered all the main points (symbolic delivery, bad title, confusio, specificato, common property & division and sale, transfer of security & notification). Although at least one of them was insufficiently expanded, and some minor points were missed, and all too few authorities were cited. Being pessimistic, it's probably a third, if I'm lucky. Still, it's a start, and it's only for 10% of the course total. The desks used to face the other way, to the South, back in the 80s.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Selling myself, line by line

I haven't had much to say here, or the time to say it, having been really very busy. with degree work. So far, it's been involving, and interesting, but hard, and time-consuming. And tomorrow, at 09.05, comes my first degree exam, on Property Law.

Anyway, in the absence of something to say, I thought I'd post the UCAS "personal statement" that got me where I am now.

My first awareness of the Law, and how it operated, came via the pages of AP Herbert's "Uncommon Law". While humourous, they made a profound impact on me regarding common law, the interpretation of statute, and the place of judicial opinion, and the sources informing that opinion.
In my undergraduate degree, I became involved in the study of the theories, and structures, surrounding the law and its creation and enforcement. As part of my studies of UK government I first read, and referenced, statute law, and encountered the common law. I also became aware of the distinct nature of Scots law. The philosophical side of my political studies introduced me to the ideas and theories of jurisprudence, law, and justice, both human and natural, from Aristotle to Rawls.
Since graduation, in my career and personal life, I have had many encounters with the law and its practitioners. The first was the most traumatic, when I was closely involved with the pursuit of a successful personal injuries claim on behalf of my brother (for whom I now have power of attorney), who was severely, and permanently, injured in a car accident. The case was heard at the Court Of Session, and was my first encounter with advocates.
In my professional life, I have had frequent contact with the law, and lawyers, involving company formation, contract drafting, litigating contractual disputes, and advising on employment law (both as an employee and employer). Much of my work has also seen me working alongside lawyers. This was particularly the case when I was advising clients who were exercising due diligence as part of proposed purchases of companies and/or technology. I had a lawyer colleague assisting me, untangling the questions of ownership, licensing, and liability in the technology under examination.
My experience of the criminal law has, so far, been limited to periods of jury service, in Manchester Crown Court, and Linlithgow Sheriff Court.
Throughout my career, I have become increasingly aware of the need for either lawyers with a technical, or engineering, background, or engineers with legal training. Many contract negotiations and disputes I have been involved with have taken longer that was necessary simply because of the time taken to adequately explain the details relating to each expertise.
Throughout experience of working with, and being advised by, lawyers, I have always deeply admired lawyers' professional training and abilities. Their speed at mastering often complicated, and badly documented, briefs, the clear and focused ability to identify underlying, and important, legal issues (and their source in case and statute), while ignoring peripheral detail. I would greatly value the chance to acquire such skills and legal knowledge.
Although I have no taken formal academic classes in recent years, I have kept up my reading in my various disciplines, and taken several non-credit extra mural courses. And all the while I have been working at a high level in an area of computer science (compiler design) where research goes on as much in industry as in academia. My various teams have been contributors at many conferences and summer schools. My academic training has been also been wide, and varied, starting in the Social Sciences, and ending in hard engineering.

I'm not sure I recognise myself, when I read that!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Everybody's shuffling on to keep a place in the line

First, we had to queue up in the quad, in the gentle drizzle. Then they let us in, five by five, to go and join the queue to join the queue, inside. There, they split off the SAAS-funded, so they could go and stand in their own, special, queue. After that, we were sent inside the big hall, four by four, to join a queue to get our "college status" checked. At least this time we were inside, and seated. After shuffling from chair to chair, down the entire length of the hall, every minute or so, for almost an hour, my status was duly verified -- in 30 seconds -- so I was sent off to join the queue to pay. This queue was only 15 people long, but it still took me almost 40 minutes to get to the front, and pay. Having paid, I was sent off to the far corner of the join the queue to get photographed, and another 20 minute wait. At the end of that time, an unflattering photograph was duly taken, and seconds later I was handed the most expensive object I've ever owned, gramme for gramme:

Roughly £1,933,333.33 per Kg (or £3,866,666.66 over its two years validity).

Duly stamped, filed, processed, and catalogued, I went up to the Bute Hall, and, failing to find the Geographical Society, attempted to blag my way to becoming the double bassist for the University Big Band. After all the excitement, I went had pie and chips in the GUU - eaten from a paper plate, with plastic cutlery, and accompanied by a pint of bitter in a polythene tumbler. I'd forgotten quite how classy student life is.

Friday, 19 March 2010

The burden of proof

Although Scotland is a rather small country, with an unusual legal system, the quality, and quantity, of legal texts is really remarkably good. (Of course, it could suggest that we are over-lawyered.) We have many splendidly learned academics and practitioners, and as several specialist Scots Law publishers and imprints - Avizandum, Tottel, W Green, and the various university presses.

When you have this kind of supply it's churlish to complain. But I'm going to, anyway. Recently, I've been noticing rather poor proof reading standards - homophones, misspellings, and even in one case, whole line dropouts -- and that in a book in its 3rd edition, and one that is probably bought by almost every LLB student in the country (I'll leave you to guess which one it might be.)

This problem isn't unique to legal texts, it's true. But given the premium that is placed upon careful, clear, and correct, communication within the profession, it's just a little disappointing.

(I do hope there are no unfortunate errors above.)

Monday, 15 March 2010

Get your tanks off my Parliament Square?

The heather is burning in the Scots legal profession. Well, perhaps not burning, but certainly smouldering rather noticeably. Parliament is currently considering the Legal Services Bill. This is a measure which, inter alia, would allow non-lawyers to own (bits of) legal firms, so-called Alternative Business Structures (ABS).
I'm ambivalent about this measure. I can see that allowing multi-disciplinary partnerships - with, say both lawyers and accountants as principals - makes a good deal of sense. It matches the privilege such professionals already have, of instructing counsel directly, without engaging a solicitor. It would allow one-stop shop for professional services. But I'm less clear on the benefits of, say, Tesco (or less wholesome ambulance chasers) becoming principals. I don't like the fact that the bill allows the proliferation of oversight bodies; but perhaps discretion in operation will prevail (although I gather the accountants have already made a bid for oversight). Exactly how advocates will enter into partnerships, and ABS, and how that will interact with their current cab-rank rule, inability to handle client's funds, current training methods, and so on, could be complicated - especially given the small size of the Scottish bar. Could it actually mark the beginning of the end of the distinct bar? Quite possibly.

The Scottish Law Society had an AGM about the bill, last year, and decided that ABS were a neat and dandy idea. However, it seems that a lot of their membership don't actually think that at all. Or perhaps they don't like the fact that the bill also proposes introducing non-solicitors onto the Scottish Law Society council. Some have even suggested 50% non-lawyers, and a non-lawyer chair. And a few largish sub-sections - The Glasgow Bar Association, and the Writers To The Signet Society - are now rising in collective revolt against this. Or that. It's not entirely clear, really. But they are angry, anyway.

The WSS seems to want its old, pre-war, role as a representative society of solicitors back, and to remove that role from the Scottish Law Society, who are currently both a regulatory and representative body. Maybe it's just me, but that looks like a WSS land-grab. It would seem to be to make more sense to establish a new Scottish Lawyers Regulatory Body, as in England, (and leave the Scottish Law Society as the solicitors' representative body). But, in the light of the Bill, and ABS, that body would (should?) probably also be given regulatory jurisdiction over advocates, too - it would seem silly to have a separate Scottish Bar Council for just a few hundred advocates (especially as advocates are all now trained first as solicitors). But the Faculty wouldn't like that.

Interesting times.

The Beginning...

Every blog needs a first post; either to check that it's actually working, or to lay out a manifesto. Let's assume that it is working, and state that this blog has no manifesto. It has no goals, no aims, and no designs. It is simply a place for me to lay out my experiences,  thoughts, and frustrations as I venture into the secret garden that is Scots Law, and progress towards wrenching an LLB from the hands of the University of Glasburgh.

Like as not it will manage to be both uninteresting to other LLB students, and dull to qualified lawyers. I might, however, be able to amuse some laymen.

On with the farrago...