After Heriot’s Blog

Next on the blog we have Kenneth Young

Please get in touch if you wish to share your story ‘after Heriot’s’.

Kenneth Young, Class of 2003

What is your current role?

I am an advocate, which is a self-employed lawyer specialised in pleading cases in court or giving opinions on the most complex legal issues. Because advocates are instructed through solicitors, rather than directly by clients, we are one-step removed, which helps us to give objective advice. Sometimes that advice might be difficult to hear, but it is always delivered in the best interests of the client.

I am part of a stable of advocates called Terra Firma Chambers, where the clerking team help me to manage my practice. The main type of work that I do tends to either involve property, commercial, or public law disputes. I spend about half of my time in or preparing for court, and about half my time writing opinions on legal disputes to help clients understand what their options might be.

What was your journey to get there?

While at Heriot’s I was drawn towards areas which were focused on stories and argument, and less to do with fixed rules. That meant that I took subjects in my senior years like History, Modern Studies, and English. I suspect that the Mathematics Department was relieved to be rid of me after S4! I went on to Edinburgh University to study History. While there I found that student politics was a greater draw than my studies.

After university I went on to work full-time in Westminster for the Labour Party during the end of the Blair/Brown era. Afterwards I spent a summer (or what I thought would be a summer) on Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign. When Ed won, I put my return to Scotland on hold and worked in his private office in the House of Commons for about two years as his Press Manager. I then returned to Scotland, served as a local councillor, stood for Parliament, lost, then retrained – back at Edinburgh University – in the law.

After two years at Brodies, I undertook a 9-month period of “devilling” at the Faculty of Advocates. This is essentially an apprenticeship under an experienced advocate whose work a devil shadows. As well as that element, there are several months’ worth of classroom training with seminars given by senior advocates, KCs and judges. Following success in the end of course exams, a devil is admitted to membership of the Faculty of Advocates in a ceremony conducted in two parts: one half before the Dean of Faculty, and the other before a Court of Session judge. I think my family will always remember my then-2 year old son being whisked out by my wife when he began interrupting the Dean’s remarks…

What are your achievements?

I am involved with the Scottish legal community’s efforts to support our Ukrainian legal colleagues who are here as a result of the invasion of their country by Russia. Hearing their feedback about what some of that support has meant has been very touching, but it also feels like the least we can and should do.

That aside, I honestly think it is hard to identify a single moment of professional pride at this stage in life. There have been moments of great satisfaction, like working at the top end of politics; being elected as a councillor for the area where I grew up; and more recently calling to the Bar as an advocate, but I don’t honestly think about those things very often. There can’t be a right or wrong approach to these things, I don’t think, but I prefer to focus on what I want to achieve in the rest of my legal career.

What are your favourite memories of Heriot’s?

The things which immediately come to mind are the good-natured, but very real, competition in History classes; rugby away games; the S6 Berlin trip; and weekend events like our participation the European Youth Parliament. Another vivid flashback comes from my dramatic high-water mark, playing the Master of Ceremonies in the Raeburn’s house drama production of Cabaret. But, perhaps above all, I remember the era during which a few of the senior boys were invited to fill in the numbers for the teachers’ weekly five a side football games down in the gym. My S5 friend and I were, at that time, significantly fleeter of foot than many of the teachers, and enjoyed some moments of great satisfaction, and managed to (mostly!) dodge a few wild tackles.

But actually, that experience was quite typical of my time at Heriot’s. The pupils and the teachers had, generally, an excellent relationship. It was always clear where the boundaries were, but within that, there was space for a great deal of fun, discussion, and spirited debate (and occasional sporting competition!).

Any top tips for current pupils when planning their future?

Yes. There are two things that I think pupils should think about.

The first is something which I probably did not consider in sufficient detail as a 16 year old: what job do you actually want to go into after you receive your degree, or finish whatever after-school training you undertake? I took a History degree because I liked history. I did not, looking back, have any clear idea as to the job which that might lead to. I was lucky in that I fell into a job in politics, and then ended up in the law, which I genuinely love. Current pupils might do well to consider that question in greater detail than I did though.

Secondly, I recommend building resilience as a priority, and while still at school. I should explain that further, in case it sounds as if I recommend working oneself to the bone as a rule (which I do not). What I suggest from my experience is that pupils should develop their ability to – when needed – work long hours and produce high quality work under pressure. It is tremendously easy to come up with an excuse why not to do a piece of work at an inconvenient time. It is much more impressive to get it done and thereafter to take a break to balance out any long hours that were required. It’s about being the leader of your own career, and deciding, fundamentally, how far you want to go in your working life. If you are willing to work hard at the right times, I don’t think anyone or anything can hold you back.