The signs are that lawyers have little to fear from Scottish independence. Of course with the polls currently showing a clear majority against independence, that reassurance may remain an academic comfort for the legal profession. But of the many arguments that will be wheeled out against independence – from Nato membership to currency challenges – I don’t think there is much to be said for the impact on the legal profession or the efficacy of the legal system.
The one fly in the ointment might be the composition of the Supreme Court. With Lord Hope’s retirement there is only one supreme court justice with experience of practice in Scotland, Lord Reed, so a Scottish judge is being actively sought. But we surely cannot hold back on a question of self-determination to give career clarity to one or two judges.
What is interesting is that since devolution there has been a growth in law firms’ Scots/English tie-ups. Such arrangements, mergers and office openings are not commercial bets on the future, but have been driven by the demands of clients for legal service north and south of the border. For the same reason, a firm like TLT Solicitors combined opening in Scotland with the establishment of a Northern Ireland office. It’s the same logic as that applied by Dublin firms who have a presence in Belfast.
Law firms’ business clients see the commercial opportunities in different jurisdictions and act on those – dissonance between those jurisdictions’ laws is rarely a show-stopper for their intentions.
One might also reflect that commerce and institutions that span borders have the effect of fading the lines on a map, so ironically a client-driven need for legal advisers to be both north and south of an independent border may also have the effect of fading a definite line on the map.
Eduardo Reyes is Gazette features editor