Alumni Retrospectives

Graduates remember their time at Edinburgh Law School.

Nicholas Chalmers LLB 1967

My recollection starting law in 1964 as one of the post war baby boomers was that it was easy to get into the law faculty unlike today when I understand that competition is fierce. We probably had less than 20 girls in a class of 120. I found the first class, which was given by Archie Campbell in Jurisprudence completely over the head of an 18 year old and for my first year and thereafter I relied heavily on my memory.
We had some characters as lecturers. We still had George Montgomery lecturing in Scots Law. My father who attended Edinburgh between 1947 and 1949 handed me his Scots Law notes and they had hardly changed from then until when I studied Scots law in 1965. George would appear at 9am in the morning in his bow tie to loud cheers to which he responded by bowing. I don’t think he realised were actually jeering rather than cheering.
We had Cambell Paton lecturing in Evidence and Procedure between 4-5pm. At about 4.30 we would start to stamp our feet and by 4.45 he scurried out.
JDB Mitchell lectured in Constitutional Law between 5-6pm and managed to put many to sleep. His Friday lectures were the most deadly of all. I was one of the few who passed his exams first time not because I understood a word but rather because I had a great memory and learned his book off by heart. I didn’t remember a thing after the exams. One of my fellow students who went on to become a successful solicitor took six attempts before he passed.
Brian Gill now Lord President was criminal law tutor and regaled us with stories of defending murders – we still hung people in those days. In fact one of my fellow students who eventually was called to the criminal bar managed to fail the criminal law course on a number of occasions. I  remember at one tutorial the tutor saying to one of the Oxon graduates (who came to Edinburgh before going to the bar) that his essay was very thoughtful but lacked facts. Thinking was not regarded as being very important!
Civil Law was taught by Thomas Broun Smith. I remember at least part of it as great fun as we had to solve a case study using Roman Law. Yes we still needed Latin in those days but at least we did not need to translate Justinian as had been the case when my father was studying law in Edinburgh immediately post–war. We still regarded ourselves as a mixed law country. That seems to have changed significantly since I graduated although no doubt this might be subject to change again in the future.
I have to say the only class I really enjoyed was an extra one I did in Comparative Constitutions taught by Victor MacKinnon who I believe went to Canada to teach.
I never practiced and indeed went on to become an accountant and work in industry during my working life. The one thing my law degree taught me was to finish what you start. Self discipline is a skill that can be used anywhere in life .

Memories of a 1954 Law Graduate

I was originally from Glasgow but when I entered the Civil Service I was offered a post in an Inland Revenue office in Edinburgh. The post required that I should be prepared to take a law degree and I was happy to agree since I would not otherwise have been able to afford to go University as I would have liked. An additional incentive was that qualification led to a promotion to the next higher grade with a substantial and welcome increase in salary.

The law course itself proved to be something of a disappointment. With some honourable exceptions the lectures were dull and unimaginative. The worst example being a professor whose idea of a lecture was to read, verbatim, a chapter of the stipulated course text book. The exams themselves were not challenging and could be passed with a reasonable amount of work by the student. Some years later I did an economics degree at Heriot-Watt University and that proved to be a much more challenging, interesting and enjoyable experience in a livelier and more interactive academic environment.

In fact, I worked in an area of law for only a few years before moving on to jobs in accounting, economics an administration. I found that a legal background was a very useful supporting plank to have in all of these varied fields and, whatever the reservations about the course itself, as it then was, I was always pleased that the opportunity to study law had arisen.