THE FACULTY of Advocates is looking to expand the scholarships it offers to pupil advocates as a means of opening up the Scottish bar to a more diverse pool of candidates.

Currently two scholarships of £10,000 are available to cover the nine-month unpaid training period all advocates are required to go through before being called to the bar.

But Faculty vice-dean Angela Grahame QC said she and dean Gordon Jackson QC are looking at how this can be extended so the bar does not “wither from the bottom up”.

As everyone working at the bar is self-employed there is no formal payment for so-called devils, although the advocates training them – their devil masters – will meet the expenses they incur during the working day.

Ms Grahame said scholarships are necessary to ensure those without financial means are not put off from pursuing a career at the bar, especially as they will already have completed a law degree, diploma and traineeship in a law firm before even considering becoming an advocate.

“We think that £10,000 is quite a substantial award,” Ms Grahame said of the existing scholarships.

“It won’t change your life but it can help with living expenses during nine months of devilling and can make a difference to people.

“No one is going to be living a flash lifestyle because when you are devilling you are training all the time but you still have to make your tea at night and pay your own rent.

“We’re exploring what we can do at the moment because we see this as an issue for access to the profession.”

While the financial support that scholarships provide can make the difference between someone pursuing a career at the bar or not, Ms Grahame pointed out that for many, receiving such backing is about more than just the money.

“One of our members - Almira Delibegovic-Broome – came to Scotland from Bosnia in 1992,” she said. “She came for a summer school but the war there escalated and she couldn’t go home – she was initially here as an asylum seeker.

“She came to the bar and got a scholarship; she became an advocate in 2003 and was made a QC last year.

“She has always said that the scholarship system was very important to her, financially but also having the emotional encouragement that someone thought she was good enough and worth giving a scholarship to.”

Attracting people from such backgrounds – and shaking off the Faculty’s image as an Edinburgh old boys’ club - is something that both Ms Grahame and Mr Jackson have been keen to do since taking office in 2016.

The fact that neither are what Ms Grahame terms “your typical office bearers” has played a part in this, with Mr Jackson being the first-ever criminal practitioner to hold the position of dean while Ms Grahame is the second female vice-dean. Like Mr Jackson, she comes from a non-professional background too.

While this means they understand how difficult it can be to clear the final hurdle to become an advocate, Ms Grahame said it also means they can use their own experiences to show future advocates that it is possible to make it through pupillage without the backing of independent wealth.

“I worked as a solicitor for a year [before going to the bar] and I saved as much money every month as I could,” Ms Grahame said.

“It was pretty hard going but it gave me a little bit of money [for pupillage] and I was determined to make sure there were other areas where I could supplement that money - I did tutoring at the university.

“A lot of devils do that sort of thing - some have bank of mum and dad or independent wealth but that’s unusual these days.”

And that, ultimately, is why the Faculty is so keen to extend its scholarship scheme, particularly as the number of people taking up pupillage in Scotland fell to just six last year.

“The economic climate has impacted on the number of people who feel prepared to take on the risk of becoming self-employed - and it is a big risk - but this is such an amazing job and a brilliant place to work,” she said.