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Axiom Advocates - self evidently

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Axiom Advocates - self evidently

26 June 2007

David Johnston QC puts the case for Axiom Advocates

Just three weeks ago twenty-nine advocates set up a new group called Axiom Advocates. Why is that of interest? It marks the beginning of a new era for the Scottish Bar.

The Faculty of Advocates dates back to the early sixteent h century. The contributions its members have made over the centuries not just to the development of Scots law but to the broader cultural life of Scotland are well-known. Nowadays, however, antiquity and tradition often seem to send the wrong message. They can sometimes be mistaken for irrelevance and stagnation. There is another point too. Clients nowadays are not much interested in learning that the Bar is a traditional centre of excellence: they want excellence here and now in the pursuit of their own cases. More and more, they also want specialized expertise in particular areas of law. To claim a mastery of all ten commandments or all twelve tables would be one thing; but the volume and complexity of modern law is so great that to claim expertise across the board (say: in human rights, pensions, shipping, tax, public procurement) is wholly unrealistic.

Unsurprisingly, the Scottish Bar is not isolated from the real world and its competitive pressures. Its members are well aware of that. The Bar's monopoly on representing clients in the supreme courts in Scotland disappeared years ago. Since then we have been in competition with solicitor-advocates, and in recent years increasingly with English barristers. Competition will only increase, whether through European initiatives such as free movement in the provision of services, or through the attention of national and European regulators anxious to make sure that in the public interest there is a genuinely competitive market in legal services.

Which brings me back to Axiom Advocates. We aim to offer specialist expertise in clearly defined practice areas, namely commercial and public law. We have selected our members on merit. Many of them have a great deal of experience, although at the same time we have a number of members who have started in practice relatively recently. Members of Axiom have acted in many of the most significant cases in Scotland over the last 30 years or so. These range from corporate law and financial services to human rights and constitutional issues.

We know there is a demand for Axiom Advocates. Why? Because solicitors and the other professionals and public bodies who regularly instruct us tell us that. Their clients place increasing demands on them. Their lives are in turn made easier if they can have the assurance that in turning to Axiom they will obtain representation from advocates who have the skills and the specialist experience they need. We think that will enable the two branches of the legal profession to work in partnership in providing a more effective and focused service for the public. From the start we are seeking to introduce a system of practice management that will be more responsive to the demands of those who send us work. We also aim to provide extremely comprehensive information about our members and our services on our website, to be launched in late June. That can only assist those who need to identify the right person for the job within the fields of commercial and public law. All of this requires work, and it also demands a willingness to engage with those who use our services and ask them how they could be improved. We are willing and eager to do that.

Excellence is not something that can be taken for granted. It needs to be worked at. Reputation needs to be earned. Our members have excellent track records. Axiom itself is too young to have one yet. Our aim from the outset is that Axiom Advocates should be more than the sum of its members. So the reason for choosing an advocate from Axiom to represent your client or yourself should, as our name suggests, be self-evident.

This first appeared as a comment piece in The Herald, Monday, 7th May 2007