I was delighted to be asked by Linda Urquhart to contribute to this blog. I’m not an experienced “blogger” so here goes:
What is my link with Morton Fraser ?
When I was in 5th year at School I was thinking about doing law at Uni. I had an interview with one of the partners at Morton Fraser, Hugh Henderson, for an office junior position during the summer holidays. I remember being a bit stumped by one of the questions he asked me. It was something like this: “Why, with a world of opportunity out there, would you want to work in a law firm all summer when you will probably spend the rest of your life working in one?” Wise words, however I didn’t follow his advice and took the job.
Office Junior 1985
In these days it was Morton Fraser & Milligan and their offices were in York Place. I spent the summer of 1985 court running, getting documents stamped at Waterloo Place, going to Meadowbank House and New Register House ("the Dome"), doing settlements, filling the Klix coffee machine and going on “bun” runs. It was a great way to meet practising solicitors and see what they did. The pay was modest. I recall spending one lunch break busking at Waverly Market on my flute. I earned more in that hour than my week’s wages at MF&M. But the summer job was a great foot in the door. What I liked about the firm was the warm and friendly atmosphere and the nurturing environment.
Traineeship 1990 – 1992
I was lucky enough to be offered a traineeship with Morton Fraser Milligan (I took a risk on turning down a Dundas & Wilson offer in the hope of getting one from MF&M and it paid off). Here are a few random memories of my training days:
- Sneaking into the canteen of the very large insurance company, just along from the office, with one of the other trainees, for their heavily subsidised 29p lunches. We rehearsed a bit of insurance chat in case we were challenged.
- Having all my letters red penned in residential conveyancing. A practice which I now inflict on our trainees!
- Being terrified during my 6 month spell in the Court department.
- Glazing over and losing the place in lengthy document comparisons of big commercial contracts from the “engrossing room”.
- Cycling up the Mound every night after work.
- All the assistants and trainees getting together for Friday afternoon cakes in the attic.
- The varied and colourful characters that made up the firm and the feeling of being part of a big family.
- The commitment of all staff to passing on their knowledge and the setting of high standards.
Looking back I was enormously lucky to have such good foot up into my professional career.
Move to Elgin in 1992
Outside work, I loved going off to the hills and wild places of Scotland. After a few student holiday jobs in the Highlands I figured that it would suit me better to live there. I was offered a job with a 5 partner firm in the County town of Elgin doing a wide range of private client and commercial work including hands on estate agency. This is when I really appreciated the investment Morton Fraser had made in me........oh, and their fabulous styles book! The prospects in the Elgin firm were good but I didn’t see this as being my long term calling. When local government reorganisation happened in 1996 there were jobs advertised in the newly formed Moray Council. I saw an opportunity for a sideways move to an “in house” role. I was offered one of the jobs and thought I’d give it a go for a couple of years.
Moray Council 1996 to date
20 years later I’m still here. I have huge job satisfaction in working at the Council. I can look around the local communities and point out all the projects which I have been closely involved with. I am closely involved in the corporate decision making process. The range of work and involvement with other professional disciplines is really interesting. Until a couple of years ago I jointly managed a small team doing a wide range of legal work including conveyancing, leasing, roads, harbours, planning, procurement, agricultural leases, trusts, flood schemes, PPP, FOI, ....the list goes on. It’s a bit like being a legal GP.
In the past couple of years I’ve taken on the role of Head of Legal and Democratic Services. This includes the wider statutory Monitoring Officer role, responsibility for Council Tax collection, benefits processing and a customer contact centre. The role was a bit unsettling at first, being removed from detailed transactional legal work and managing non legal services. After a couple of years I am now more comfortable in the role. I realise that I am using the same skills I learned as a trainee:
- Weighing up options and risks.
- Presenting complex information in clear and understandable way.
- Helping my client make informed decisions.
Following a tender process a few years ago Morton Fraser were appointed as the Council’s external legal services suppliers. It has been a pleasure to refresh old acquaintances and also to meet the new faces at Morton Fraser. The firm has come a long way in the 21 years since I was there. It has a new corporate structure, sleek new offices at Quartermile and modern working practices. But the old values still shine through: top quality and practical legal advice delivered by very personable people.
I know that there have been a lot of challenges recently for private sector lawyers. Morton Fraser seem to have adapted and be well placed to meet these challenges.
There are a lot of challenges facing the public sector with the need to reduce public spending. To reduce their spending, the Council need to consider stopping/ merging/reducing services, sharing service provision, outsourcing to the private sector and transfer of activities to community groups. Such arrangements generally result in an increase in workload for lawyers. This is good news for our in house team, although we have to cope with this increasing demand with decreasing resources. We are learning to be adaptable and positive about change as we face the future, whatever it may bring.
Our former chairman Linda Urquhart mentioned that there is a Morton Fraser alumni page on linkedin. I’m off to see what my contemporaries are all up to these days....