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  • Writer's pictureNadia Cook

Diary of a Devil II - The Compulsory Skills Course

During "Pupillage" traditionally known as "Devilling" you are required to undertake the Faculty of Advocate's compulsory skills course, which lasts approximately two weeks and takes place in January and May each year. Below Advocate Bilaal Shabbir shares his experiences during the course and provides his insights on what to expect during the two weeks of training at the Faculty of Advocates.

Compulsory Skills Course – Day 1 & 2

"Yesterday marked the first day of the January skills course which runs for 2 weeks. This is another period where devils are back in the classroom honing their advocacy skills. This course is split across four areas; use of expert witnesses, commercial litigation, judicial review and family law.

Yesterday we had a talk about the forthcoming assessments which will involve

drafting exercises, presenting submissions and examination of a witness. These assessments will take place in early February over a period of one week. We also had a presentation from Garry Borland KC with important issues to be mindful of when leading expert evidence.

Last night, we were given papers in a mock divorce case in which accountants had provided reports on the valuation of shares in a company for the purposes of valuing the matrimonial property.

Today, we started off with a talk from Kenny McBrearty on consulting with expert witnesses. The rest of the day was taken up with a case analysis exercise and then a talk from Dr Marjorie Turner, Pathologist.

Tomorrow, we will be conducting a group consultation with our respective expert and then either conducting an examination in chief of our expert or cross-examining the other side’s expert.

It feels great to be back in the classroom and I'm really looking forward to getting back on my feet tomorrow!"

Compulsory Skills Course – Day 3 & 4

"Yesterday the devils performed a group consultation with the expert accountants who were giving evidence. We had a chance to probe and test their conclusions. This was a really useful exercise since the reports were quite technical and it gave us a chance to solidify our understanding of the main themes of the report.

We then had some downtime to touch up our examination of the experts. We were split into groups to either lead the examination in chief or cross the respective witnesses. It felt a bit daunting to get up on our feet with our biggest audience yet, the whole group of devils, the group of accountants who had come down to help, the director, the deputy director and the instructors! We are normally used to performing exercises within small groups so this was a marked change.

Thanks to Henderson Loggie for helping out and in particular Christine Rolland for helping my group and for being an excellent expert witness to lead!

The next stage of the skills course relates to family law. We were provided mock instructions and statements in a high-value divorce case in which urgent pre-service orders were needed to stop the dissipation of assets. This morning we conducted a case analysis exercise and then took the rest of the afternoon to draft the Summons. This was not an easy exercise. There were a lot of different remedies sought together with the divorce and the added complexity of moving for pre-service orders meant the Summons took time to craft. We also had two excellent talks, one on family law at the Scottish Bar generally from Lady Wise and the second on the structure of the relevant legislation and procedural rules by Ruth Innes KC.

Tonight’s prep is preparing submissions for the pre-service orders hearing which we will present in front of instructors tomorrow morning. I can’t believe we’re already nearing the end of the first week of the January skills course."

Compulsory Skills Course – Day 5

"Today marked the finish of the first half of the January skills course. It’s been a busy week of being up on our feet presenting arguments but also conducting negotiations and consulting with expert witnesses.

Today we finished off the week by presenting our motions for interim interdict to prevent the dissipation of assets in a family law scenario. We then had a review with our instructors to look at the Summons we drafted yesterday.

This afternoon, we were given papers to conduct negotiations and present a motion to approve a specification of documents for commission and diligence. This included disputed calls for documents involving the valuation of certain items of matrimonial property.

We have now been given papers in Monday’s examination in chief exercises which involve a criminal case (which is a curveball!). We have also received papers for next week’s commercial litigation exercises involving a construction dispute. Next week will focus on more case analysis, procedural hearings, and legal submissions in the context of a commercial action and a petition for judicial review."

Compulsory Skills Course – Days 6, 7 and 8

"Currently halfway through another very busy week! The week kicked off with a talk from Lord Harrower on Judicial Review and from Lord Braid on the Commercial Courts in Scotland. We then presented our examination in chief of a police officer in a drugs prosecution case and for a complainer in an attempted murder case. The witnesses were played by professional actors and gave us another chance to perfect our questioning skills.

Tuesday was spent working on a construction dispute involving an allegation of professional negligence and breach of contract relating to the construction of a road. Devils were split into groups and required to conduct negotiations over a specification of documents. We then had to appear at a Preliminary Hearing in the Commercial Court whilst the instructors acted as judges. Part of the day also included a case analysis session on the scenario.

Today we kicked off the day with a talk on the upcoming stable application process. Like chambers in England, Scottish advocates are normally part of stables which assist with clerking support and bringing in work to Counsel. We then spent the rest of the day with Morag Ross KC and Lesley Irvine looking at general principles of Judicial Review. We have also been given papers in a case involving expulsion from a golf club. We are to draft a Petition for Judicial Review by 9am tomorrow. We will also be conducting a permission hearing before the instructors tomorrow.

We will hopefully end the week on Friday with a trip to Glasgow High Court and to the Commission Centre."

Compulsory Skills Course – Days 9 and 10

"Last Thursday and Friday marked the end of the January Skills Course. This was the second substantive period of training in the classroom where we covered different specialist areas such as judicial review, family law, commercial litigation and dealing with expert witnesses. On Thursday morning we had a review session with our instructors to go through the Petition we had drafted relating to the golf club membership suspension case.

We then had a general session with the instructors to talk about common issues arising. We were then provided with a style petition and a mock interlocutor to prepare for the permission hearing in the afternoon. This was a really useful advocacy exercise as we only had about 15 mins to frame our whole case and explain why permission should be granted.

On Friday, we attended at Glasgow High Court and sat in Lady Rae’s court to observe a trial. Her Ladyship was then kind enough to speak to the Devils and answer questions about advocacy skills. We then trekked across Glasgow to the Commission Centre at Atlantic Quay to see the rooms where commissions for evidence are held and learn how vulnerable witnesses give evidence away from the courtroom. Finally, we rounded off the week, with a wonderful impromptu talk from the mesmerising Donald Findlay KC, drawing on his wisdom from 47 years at the Bar. This week we are back with our Devilmasters and prepping concurrently for next week’s assessments.

Next week’s assessments will consist of (1) drafting a writ; (2) drafting an opinion; (3) presenting legal submissions for 20 mins and (4) examining a witness for 20 mins. The drafting exercises will take place on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday will be a prep day and then the presentational exercises will be on Thursday and Friday."

Assessment Week

As part of the Compulsory Skills Course, Devils are required to undertake 4 assessments. Bilaal notes the types of assessments that you may encounter:

"[I am] currently 2 assessments down and [have] 2 more to go! It's been a busy and tricky set of assessments so far. Today was an 8 hour opinion writing exercise! Tomorrow is a prep day in advance of the legal submissions assessment on Thursday and examination of a witness assessment on Friday."

A typical assessment week may look like the following:

  1. Drafting Pleadings

  2. Opinion writing exercise

  3. Legal submissions assessment

  4. Examination of witness assessment


Devils begin their journey by taking part in the Faculty of Advocates interactive Foundation Course, which is in an intensive advocacy course designed to develop both oral and written advocacy skills. You can find out more about the Foundation Course here in Bilaal's first 'day-by-day' devilling diary of his experience whilst participating in the course.

You can find out more about the process of becoming an Advocate in Scotland on the Faculty of Advocates website.

Credit: Diary extracts re-posted with permission originally written by Bilaal Shabbir on Linkedin and edited by Nadia Cook

Bilaal's Linkedin profile can be found here.


Bilaal did his LLB part-time at Edinburgh Napier University (2014 – 2018) and his Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Edinburgh (2018 – 2019). From 2014 - 2021, Bilaal practised at a boutique litigation law firm in Edinburgh working his way up from a paralegal to Head of Court of Session Litigation. He had a significant judicial review and general dispute resolution practise encompassing, immigration, professional negligence, commercial disputes, oil and gas, and adoption. He then spent a period with a Band 1 rated team at a leading international law firm defending professional negligence claims on behalf of accountants, brokers, engineers, surveyors and construction professionals on behalf of some of the UK’s biggest insurers. His litigation practice included contractual disputes, property litigation, shipping, insolvency and debt recovery. He was also involved in advising and representing a core participant in the Scottish Hospitals Inquiry. In the summer of 2022, Bilaal was the Lead Solicitor on the EUSS Advice Project for the Legal Services Agency where he provided second-line advice to volunteer organisations on complex EUSS applications.

In 2022, Bilaal commenced his journey to the Scottish Bar and became a Devil at the Faculty of Advocates (the equivalent of a pupil barrister in England). Bilaal is also currently a Consultant with Dickinson Gleeson, a boutique Jersey litigation firm where he specialises in trust litigation, asset recovery and commercial dispute resolution. He acts for ultra HNWIs, law firms, settlors, trustees and international insolvency practitioners.

He is currently a tutor on the LLB and Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Edinburgh and has delivered guest lectures at Edinburgh Napier University. He is an author for Free Movement, one of the UK’s leading immigration law blogs.

Bilaal is also an experienced decision-maker and currently sits on the FA’s National Serious Case Panel where he judges all types of serious disciplinary cases within grassroots football.

In 2022, he was also appointed as a Commissioner of the Jersey Appointments Commission where he helps oversee the recruitment of Jersey States’ employees and appointees to States supported or related bodies. His role is to ensure that selection is fair, efficient and conducted in accordance with best practice according to the Discrimination (Jersey) Law 2013.

He has organised and chaired some of the largest legal conferences in Scotland. He regularly trains and presents on various topics to the legal profession including on litigation procedure and practice. He has presented training in affiliation with the Legal Services Agency (LSA), Hey Legal, Central Law Training (CLT Scotland) and HJT Training.

He is an Affiliate Member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and a member of the Contentious Trusts Association (ConTrA). He recently completed a Diploma in Islamic Finance with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).


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