Job descriptions and industry overviews

Advocate (Scotland): job description

25 Jan 2023, 13:39

Advocates in Scotland are comparable to barristers in England and Wales; they work as independent lawyers offering advice about legal cases to clients and conducting defence and prosecution work within courts.

Scales of justice on a wooden surface with an open book in the background.

Advocates must be members of the Faculty of Advocates to practise at the Scottish Bar.

What does an advocate do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Advocates practise in Scotland in an equivalent role to barristers in England and Wales. They are experts in the art of advocacy, which involves the presentation of cases in court and the provision of advice on every aspect of litigation.

Advocates receive their work and fees from solicitors, who transfer clients to them in cases that go to court. While advocates practise in the courts of Scotland as members of the Faculty of Advocates, they can also appear before the UK Supreme Court and a host of other decision-making bodies like tribunals and arbitrations.

Unlike solicitors, most advocates work on a self-employed basis from Parliament House in Edinburgh.

Typical duties include:

  • interviewing clients and providing them with expert legal advice
  • researching and preparing cases and presenting them in court
  • writing legal documents and preparing written pleadings for civil cases
  • liaising with other professionals such as solicitors
  • specialising in specific legal areas
  • representing clients in court, public enquiries, arbitrations and tribunals
  • questioning witnesses
  • negotiating settlements

Advocates meet with considerable responsibility from junior level onward. They take on heavy workloads and are expected to meet tight deadlines.

Hours can be long and unpredictable, occasionally spilling over into evenings and weekends. They may also be expected to take on various additional tasks at a moment’s notice. The ability to work well under pressure while juggling various responsibilities is therefore vital.

For around ten months trainee advocates, or ‘devils’ as they are known, work unpaid. Qualified advocates typically earn £25,000–£35,000; this figure increases with experience to £50,000 or more.

After 13 years an advocate can ‘take silk’ as a Queen’s Counsel (QC) and can then expect to earn significantly more.

Typical employers of advocates

Advocates work as self-employed individuals based in Parliament House in Edinburgh.

A few find employment within:

  • local government
  • industry and commerce
  • higher education

Qualifications and training required

Qualifying as an advocate is an expensive and lengthy process.

You can only become an advocate if you have a relevant degree. Prior to commencing training it is necessary to gain a first or second class degree in Scottish law and a diploma in professional legal practice (DPLP), also known as the professional education and training stage 1 (PEAT 1), from a Scottish university. You must then start the process of joining the Faculty of Advocates. This stage is known as matriculating as an intrant and will cost you £330 for the matriculation and court fees. There are other payments that you may need to make before establishing a practice, so check the Faculty of Advocates website for more details.

The Faculty provides a list of modules that must be passed to qualify as an advocate. If these modules have not been covered by an applicant’s law degree, then once matriculated, these can be sat through Faculty examinations.

The first step towards Bar-specific training is to gain a traineeship with a solicitors’ firm. The Faculty of Advocates stipulates a minimum of 21 consecutive months spent at this stage. Following the traineeship, intrants must pass the Faculty’s entrance exam before commencing the next stage of qualification.

Now starts the apprenticeship period known as ‘devilling’, the Scottish term for pupillage . As a devil you will work under the supervision of a devilmaster – an experienced member of the Bar. Training lasts between eight and nine months.

You will visit court, attend meetings with solicitors and clients, and draft written pleadings and opinions. At the same time you will attend skills training courses. This is full-time, unpaid work. You will need to make sure you have the resources to fund yourself for almost ten months.

After final exams you will be admitted as an advocate and will be able to represent clients in court. As junior counsel, advocates deal with all types of legal work, only specialising after three or four years in practice.

Keys skills for advocates

  • Excellent interpersonal, presentation and written/oral communication skills
  • Integrity and an understanding of the importance of confidentiality
  • Self-confidence, motivation and resilience
  • Legal and commercial awareness
  • Excellent time and people management skills
  • Excellent academic and research skills

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