The Faculty is led by its Dean, who is elected by the whole membership, supported by the Vice-Dean, Treasurer, Clerk, Keeper of the Library and Chairman of Faculty Services Ltd, all of whom are also elected. There is no standing council as with the Bar of England and Wales.
It is self-regulating, and the Court of Session delegates to the Faculty the task of preparing Intrants for admission as advocates. This task involves a process of examination and practical instruction known as devilling, during which intrants benefit from intensive structured training in the special skills of advocacy. No-one can be presented to the court as suitable to be a practising advocate without satisfying these training requirements. The Faculty also provides for its members an ongoing programme of talks, seminars and conferences covering a wide range of topics.
During the period of devilling, trainee Advocates carry out work for the Free Legal Services Unit (FLSU). This is part of the Faculty's long standing commitment to providing access to justice for everyone in society. The FLSU enables qualified persons to provide advice and representation to clients of Citizens Advice Bureau and other advice agencies from across Scotland. (In order to devil a person has to first undergo a period of training in a solicitor's office.)
The Faculty includes practising and non-practising members. The current practising Bar includes an increasing proportion of women. Women make up approximately one quarter practising membership. Total numbers now stand at just over 460, of whom approximately one fifth are Queen's Counsel. The taking of Silk, as assumption of the title of Queen's Counsel is commonly known, depends upon the prerogative of Her Majesty. This is exercised through the First Minister upon the recommendation of the Lord Justice General. The Dean of Faculty is consulted in the course of this process. As a general rule, Silk is awarded to experienced Counsel, who are considered to have achieved distinction in full-time practice.
A comprehensive range of materials has been built up over the last three hundred years, and a modern library management system utilising the latest technology, ensure that the Advocates Library is able to meet the increasingly complex needs of members of the Faculty of Advocates. In addition, the library's stock is made available to others via the National Library of Scotland.
The Library was formally inaugurated in 1689. From the start the collection was a general one. In 1709 the status of the collection was confirmed when Queen Anne's Copyright Act gave the Keeper of the Library the right to claim a copy of every book published in the British Isles. The collection was enhanced by purchase and donation, particularly of continental imprints and of manuscripts.
The Advocates Library came to be recognised as the natural depository for literary materials of national importance. By the 1850s the Library had become in effect Scotland's national library. In 1925 the National Library of Scotland was established when the Faculty gifted to the nation its whole non-law collections comprising 750,000 books, pamphlets, manuscripts, maps and sheet music. The Advocates Library has retained the copyright privilege for law publications.
In recent years the Advocates Library has expanded to take account of the increase in membership of the Faculty. Advances in technology have been embraced with the installation of a new library management system, incorporating an on-line catalogue, which further enhances the services the library is able to offer.