One year in law reform

My first ‘proper job’ following graduation has been at the Scottish Law Commission (SLC) in Edinburgh.

The SLC, like its counterpart Law Commission in London, recruits a handful of legal assistants each year for a year-long placement consisting of research and administrative work, and since September 2012 I’ve been getting to grips with the world of law reform.

The SLC conducts research and consultations with the aim offering the Scottish Government recommendations for reform of various aspects of Scots law. We’re currently working on a wide assortment of projects, some of which are conducted jointly with the English Law Commission. I’ve been allocated to two ‘purely Scottish’ projects: Contract Law in Light of the Draft Common Frame of Reference (DCFR) and Trusts, which reflect my main academic interests from university.

My work on the Contract Law project has been particularly rewarding. Since I joined the SLC last September, the contract team has been working on the Execution in Counterpart etc. (Scotland) Bill 2013, which essentially allows parties to a Scots law contract to validly execute a document by each signing their own copy (or “counterpart”) and exchanging it with each other. I arrived just in time for the first draft of the Bill, and the final draft of the Bill with its accompanying Report has just been published. It’s been fascinating to see the process of developing the Bill from its initial first draft to the final package. Otto von Bismarck may have said that “Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made,” but I would definitely disagree.

It’s a cliché said of every job, but at the SLC it’s true that no two days are the same. One constant component has been completing various research tasks, ranging from the law on electronic signatures to sheriff court jurisdiction, and administrative tasks such as compiling responses to our consultations. However, the work tends to vary according to which stage the projects are at, and one particularly enjoyable aspect of the execution in counterpart project was accompanying my managers to various law firms across Edinburgh to discuss the Bill. The office is fairly laid back and I’ve also enjoyed the social side of the job – with an office of less than 30 staff it’s easy to get to know everyone.

Discussing issues affecting law firms in the context of legal research has allowed insight into both legal practice and academia, and the nature of law reform means there’s a policy element to the work as well. Choosing which avenue to pursue in my future career may be tricky! However, it’s certainly been an incredibly interesting experience so far, and I know that the end of my stint at the SLC is going to come around far too quickly and I can highly recommend working for one of the Law Commissions.

Lorna MacFarlane graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2012 with an Upper Second Class Bachelor of Law degree with Honours, and is currently working as at the Scottish Law Commission.