The Law Society of Scotland spoke to two of its in-house members who started their careers elsewhere in Europe. This article follows the career of Claudia Bennett who now works for the Office of the Advocate General Scotland.
Where are you from and what has been your career path?
Having grown up in socialist Germany, I went over to the West when the wall came down to study law at Goettingen University. In my mid-twenties I decided that it was time to learn English and went to London, where I promptly fell for the city (and a Welsh man living there). When I was offered a job in a law firm, I settled in London and re-qualified to practice law in England and Wales. After a short spell in private practice, I became legal adviser to the International Transport Worker’s Federation. That was a very international and diverse job, which I loved and held for 7 years until I moved to Scotland in 2009. After re-qualifying yet again, I joined the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). There, I managed EHRC Scotland’s enforcement team and was involved in project work, litigation, enforcement and legal policy activity. The highlight of my time at the EHRC was to lead an Inquiry into Human Trafficking in Scotland. It was a team effort and a deeply satisfying experience to see a project through from its inception; from convincing the Investigating Commissioner, Baroness Kennedy, that human trafficking was a serious issue even in Scotland; the publication of the report; then working on successfully implementing all of the report’s ten recommendations at Scottish and UK level. A key recommendation was for Scotland to have dedicated antitrafficking legislation and it was a resounding success to see this come in only a few years later.
In June of last year, I joined the Office of the Advocate General (OAG); the UK government’s Scottish legal team. My division deals with all core UK government litigation in Scotland (with the exception of the Ministry of Defence and HMRC cases). Working in its immigration litigation branch, otherwise knows as Scotland’s busiest judicial review practice, affords a completely different and fascinating insight into how human rights play out in a rapidly changing and developing legal landscape.
What do you really enjoy about working in-house?
I enjoy a workload that is varied and diverse and in-house work has always given me this. There is a certain degree of specialisation, but far more opportunities to cross legal boundaries and to devote more time to soft skills (such as transfer of expertise work- and the ability to work on the overall policy of the organisation).
What are the current hot legal topics in your sector and how heavily is your organisation affected by European laws and regulations?
Working in Government and particularly in immigration, European laws and regulations permeate everything. The current hottest topic in my area of work is how the Dublin Regulations, that determine in which Member State asylum seekers must make their asylum application, play out in practice. This brings up multifaceted legal issues from whether the Dublin Regulations confer rights on individuals to the interplay with human rights. It certainly makes for busy and undeniably interesting working days!
How does working in Scotland differ from your previous experience?
My experience of working in Scotland is probably unusual, having exclusively worked in “Scotland branches” of UK bodies. Also, although I have worked in three very different jurisdictions throughout my career, my focus was always on public law, human rights and European / International law. This has made for a lot of commonalities.
The biggest difference from previous working experience has undoubtedly to do with Scotland’s size. I have found that the easier access to, and therefore closer links with, stakeholders in a smaller country generally leads to much more effective working than in big legal and political environments.