Guernsey has a rich history – you don't have to look far to see the impact that a variety of cultures and languages has had on the island. Learning about the past is all part of understanding why Guernsey is unique – newcomers to the island will know that pronouncing "Val des terres" as if speaking in French will provoke puzzled looks in some quarters, for example.
The fact that we have traditions which date back centuries, continue to rely on Norman customary law for guidance on some legal matters (albeit to a much lesser extent these days) and have our own legislature and independent judiciary, should all be celebrated.
Learning more about the island's heritage whilst training for the Guernsey Bar exams a few years back was a rewarding experience. Whilst we are all under increasing pressure to harmonise and consolidate, individuality remains important in helping identify whether there is indeed a "better" way of doing something.
Learning from history and applying new thinking (and technology) is vital. As the Bailiff reiterated at the recent sitting of Chief Pleas, Guernsey has to evolve to "stay relevant" to today's global marketplace. "Staying relevant" doesn't just mean providing services and products that consumers want/need, it is also attracting a diverse mix of people and skillsets in order to service those needs. Whilst there will no doubt be some groans at this, that means (in part) attracting talented lawyers to the island and developing the locally-based lawyers.
That also means attracting a mixture of people from many backgrounds, as well as developing locally-based students and training them to reach their potential. It is also important to retain those people and ensure that Guernsey remains attractive to them as a longer-term career choice.
Diversity in the (traditionally conservative) legal profession generally has long been a challenge, though significant (and long-overdue) change has been achieved in the past decade. The direction of travel is positive. Guernsey has played its part – Advocate Jessica Roland will take on the mantle of Deputy Bailiff from May 2020, the first female Deputy Bailiff in Guernsey's history. Advocates Clare Tee and Sarah Brehaut have also successfully undertaken the role of Bâtonnier in recent years. Whilst it is without doubt that more can be done (and in all areas as regards diversity), these are but a few of the various examples of what can be achieved.
One of the routes towards attracting and maintaining lawyers to the island is to support them whilst they undertake the process of qualifying as a Guernsey Advocate. This involves sitting a set of exams on various aspects of Guernsey law, and completing courses at Caen University in Normandy, France.
The Guernsey Bar exams, the nemesis of many an aspirant, have been overhauled in the past couple of years. The course entails consideration of a significant volume of material, but making the process more transparent and accessible should assist in encouraging more aspirants to grasp that particular nettle.
The Caen University courses have also been overhauled in recent times. Previously, undertaking the courses meant three months away from the island, which was inevitably difficult for those who would have to spend time away from family and loved ones, alongside the challenges that being away from the office brought to their existing client bases. That said, there is something to be said for sampling the wines and cheeses of Normandy.....
The courses are now only one month in duration, with exams being taken in Guernsey. This change should encourage those with childcare or other issues to be able to consider taking the courses and ultimately qualifying locally. It will also reflect the balance that needs to be struck with maintaining the links (legal and cultural) to Normandy and our heritage.
Advocates (and the lawyers in their employ) are also required to maintain professional learning and undertake courses on a regular basis. The Guernsey Bar arranges advocacy training and there are numerous courses (both on and off-island) which can be attended in order to further develop individuals.
The rule of law has long been recognised as one of the cornerstones of democracy; retaining and attracting lawyers that can work to uphold that principle and deal with matters pragmatically and conscientiously for clients is but one small part of what Guernsey has to offer in the digital future. Assuming of course that computers don't take over by then....
First published by Aurigny En Voyage, November 2019
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