The 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by The Times was presented to Professor Lorne Crerar, Chairman and co-founding partner of Harper Macleod for his thirty year career at the forefront of Scottish law.  He has served as an independent adviser to a number of public sector bodies and as Chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. He has been Professor Emeritus of Law at Glasgow University since 2015.   

The award was presented to Professor Crerar by Magnus Llewellin, Editor of The Times in Scotland at the Scottish Legal Awards 2019 award ceremony.  He was honoured in the following speech made by Magnus on the evening:

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, my name is Magnus Llewellin and I am editor of The Times in Scotland.

It really is great to be back supporting these wonderful awards again, although it’s hard to believe a year has passed since we last got together, it’s flashed by.  But what an incredible 12 months it’s been.

We’ve had anger, frustration, the art of diplomacy stretched to the limits, cries of betrayal and widespread accusations of rank incompetence.  But – to be fair – ScotRail have promised us our trains will be back on track as soon as possible.  There again, the ScotRail board looks like a picture of competence compared to the Conservative catastrophe that is Brexit.

We have seen the UK stagger from one crisis and humiliation to another and almost three years after the EU referendum our futures still hang in the balance.  Like Scotland in Kazakhstan we are heading for disaster.

But, there again, every cloud has a silver lining and I think there may actually be an upside to this apparently endless fiasco.  Because, until Brexit intervened, lawyers and journalists routinely came top of the pile when pundits were compiling those lists of the most despised professions.  Us hacks were regarded as little more than scum while you poor guys had to endure quips like:

What is the difference between a lawyer and a cockerel?
Well, when a cockerel wakes up in the morning, its primal urge is to cluck defiance.

But now, thanks to Brexit, the low esteem in which we have – UNJUSTLY – been held is as nothing compared to the public’s view of politicians, who have succeeded in making us look like paragons of virtue.

So, as chaos reigns, it’s been great – for one night at least – to enjoy the moral high ground and celebrate your work and your achievements.  Since they were established almost two decades ago, these awards have become a highlight of the legal year and have helped set a standard for the profession across the country.  And, as I said at the beginning, we at The Times are delighted to have joined forces with this fantastic event once again.  Not least because we like to think we also set the standard for our profession in Scotland and beyond.

A vital part of what we offer our readers – both in print AND online - is our coverage of legal affairs – which today includes daily news, weekly law pages, our renowned law reports and The Brief, our excellent daily newsletter which is emailed to discerning subscribers at 8am every morning. 

What you do is central to civic and business life in Scotland and as an increasingly-significant stakeholder in Scottish public affairs my title has to pay attention to what you do.  So in recognition of Scotland’s unique legal landscape we have – over the past three years or so – introduced more Scottish legal news and more comment. And, as some of you may be aware, we also recently unleashed the marvellous Philip Rodney on our readers as a regular columnist.  And I’m delighted to say the former chair of Burness Paul (who is with us tonight) is going down a storm!

Now I could stand here all night extolling the virtues of The Times, but you didn’t come here for that – so now I’ll move on to the job in hand.

A minute ago I mentioned the importance of Scottish business and civic life.  Well, I am delighted and honoured to be presenting tonight’s Lifetime Achievement Award to a man who has been central to both for more than 30 years.

In a recent interview Professor Lorne Crerar described himself as ‘very lucky’.  But if luck has played its part in a remarkable career then so have a precocious talent, drive, determination, a willingness to rock the boat and a readiness – as an entrepreneur – to take risks.

He says, and I quote: “As lawyers, we’re not entitled to work” and that attitude has been a driving force throughout his working life.

The best private law graduate in his year at Glasgow University, Lorne Crerar made partner within a year of joining the Glasgow firm now known as Mitchells Roberton. But while still only in his early 30s, he quit that firm – something unheard of in those days – to co-found (with Rod McKenzie) the business we know today as Harper Macleod.

Recognising that some lawyers can be – and I quote him again: “pompous and arrogant” (His words, not mine!!) tonight’s winner sought out bright young recruits and over the years has nurtured a thriving – collegiate – atmosphere at the Harper Macleod head offices in the Ca D’Oro - just down the road from here in Gordon Street.

The audacious start-up was fraught with risk and initially times were pretty tough.  But the gamble – if that is the right word – paid off and today Harper Macleod is a byword for success in a rapidly changing and hugely competitive world.

Last year the firm marked its 30th year in business by announcing record profitability and its seventh consecutive year of profit growth – topping £10 million for the first time – on turnover of £26.5m.  It is a lean, strategically-aligned business that in recent years has acquired smaller firms such as Bird Semple, DSR and Allen & Shaw, and seen the value of its private client and residential property practice more than double.

The official legal adviser to Glasgow 2014 and last year’s European Championships, it has also registered growth in all key areas including public sector, energy and natural resources, real estate and construction, banking and finance and food and drink.

Not bad at all …. Especially when you consider it could all have been so very different.

The son of a dentist, Lorne Crerar grew up in Renfrew but, by his own admission, he was a bit of a handful as a youth.  Suspended from school – twice – he was facing an uncertain future until sport – in the shape of a rugby ball – intervened.

Young Lorne was a talented player and that led to people finally taking an interest in him at school,  an interest he reciprocated by applying himself…..And boy did he apply himself.

From Kelvinside Academy he went to Glasgow University to read law and found he “absolutely loved” the legal discipline and its sense of order.  He graduated top of his year and in 1981 was back at the university lecturing after discovering he had yet another talent – this time as a teacher.

His academic career as a lecturer at Glasgow led to him becoming a part-time professor of banking law and finally professor emeritus, before stepping down just a couple of years or so ago.

Meanwhile, as he was building an enviable reputation in the worlds of law and academia, Professor Crerar was also helping to shape Scotland’s social fabric.

He was convenor of the Standards Commission, which is responsible for ethics in Scottish public life.

Then – as author of the Crerar Review – he helped change the regulation of public agencies across the country, including the creation of Health Improvement Scotland, the body responsible for raising the standard of our medical care.

He was also on the selection panel that chose Police Scotland’s latest Chief Constable, which seems to be going pretty well as – seven months on – Iain Livingstone is still in post.

 But, all things aside, I don’t think he’d disagree if I said his greatest passion is for the Highlands and – in particular – his beloved Gairloch.

Family legend has it he was conceived in Wester Ross and Professor Crerar has been returning there ever since he was a small boy - and now thinks of it as home.

As chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise since 2012 he has also put something back – by pursuing a vision for the region as a successful and competitive place to live, work, study and invest. 

Now, when the judging panel came to consider who to choose for this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, you may like to know that Professor Crerar was their unanimous choice.  As part of the discussion that led to him being invited to accept the honour, they touched on his other field – if you pardon the pun – of excellence; Rugby.

As I mentioned earlier, tonight’s recipient was a very talented player. For a time it even seemed possible that the game – rather than the law – could be his future.

He played for Glasgow and was in the Scotland under-21 squad. But a knee injury at the age of 20 brought a promising career to an end.  He had to stop playing – but, with typical drive and determination, he took up refereeing and officiated at a very high level in both Europe and America.

He has also used his legal skills to modernise discipline within the game, serving at four rugby World Cups – and as Judicial Officer at two finals.

And I wait with interest to hear his views on Owen Farrell’s blatant shoulder charge on Darcy Graham at Twickenham last weekend.  

So, as I hope you have gathered, this has been a life of incredible achievements.  And at the age of 64 – and unlike the England rugby team on Saturday – this man shows no sign of letting up.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is it is my very great pleasure to present tonight’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Professor Lorne Crerar.