The four Inns of Court appear as oases of calm amid the hustle and bustle of London’s legal heartland. Named Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn, they have many similarities with Oxbridge colleges, not least their libraries, chapels, halls and ancient traditions.
The Inns provide teaching, guidance, scholarships, a social network for members and a calm environment in which to work. Stroll through the Inns and you can practically breathe history. Out in their gardens you can relax with a drink from an on-site bar or play croquet; inside you’re surrounded by imposing oil paintings, the austere expressions of past grandees, judges, heads of state and prime ministers gazing out from the wood panelling.
The Inns are the only institutions with the power to ‘call’ a person to the Bar. Indeed, students must join one of the four Inns before starting their BPTC and, since membership is for life, it’s a decision worth mulling over. Although all four provide similar services and facilities, they each have a different flavour and atmosphere, if only due to their differing sizes. Such things are hard to describe, of course, so before picking one take any available opportunity to visit the Inns to see which one most appeals. This is easily done – just call up and ask for a tour. The Inns also produce a wealth of promotional materials/application guides/newsletters all packed with information – soak it up. You can also check out our comparison table. PS. Some of you may have heard the old rhyme: "Inner for the rich, Middle for the poor, Lincoln’s for the scholar, Gray’s for the bore." Pay it no heed: it's entirely without basis in fact.
At the latest, you’ll need to join an Inn before starting the BPTC, but it’s a good idea to consider which one much earlier because between them they’ve got more than £4m to give out in scholarships for GDL and BPTC students as well as pupils. The deadlines for scholarship applications are usually in the calendar year before the course begins, so mark your diary once you have perused the detailed information on the Inns’ websites or in their hard-copy brochures.
Getting a scholarship is competitive. Applicants face panels of current members (sometimes including judges) who will examine academic records and set challenges to determine on-the-spot presentation and advocacy skills. Achievements such as ‘overcoming hardship’ are sometimes also considered, as are extracurricular activities like sporting or musical ability. The top scholarships are the prestigious ‘named’ scholarships. These can be worth in the region of £15,000. There are also a huge number of smaller awards.
It’s advisable to get mini-pupillages and/or other work experience and internships under your belt, especially as there are additional funds to help facilitate these. Check out the Inns’ websites or brochures for more information. For students living away from London, there are funds available to help cover transport costs to visit the Inns, and money is available to cover the cost of ‘qualifying sessions’. Some of these ‘qualifying sessions’ are educational, others are purely designed to help students socialise, network and absorb the customs of the Bar. Sessions range from time-honoured dinners in the halls to debates, music evenings, seminars, advocacy weekends or even weekend brunches. During one visit we saw pinball machines being set up by people who would later be dressed as Elvis. Twelve qualifying sessions must be attended before being ‘called to the Bar’ (the 12th can be the call ceremony itself).
Once a member, a student can be mentored by a practitioner in their chosen field, and there are marshalling schemes whereby students can shadow a judge for a week, observing cases and discussing them at the end of the day. There are educational workshops to polish advocacy skills and seminars discussing areas of law or courtroom technique. Then there are a range of societies for things like drama, music and mooting/debating. All Inns offer mooting at internal, inter-Inn or national level, which we fully recommend you get involved with.
Although this all sounds very exciting, don’t get carried away. Ensure that you have this mantra in mind at all times: Securing a Pupillage is Extremely Hard. A BPTC provider is unlikely to turn you away if you’ve got the cash to spend, but you cannot make your Lord Chief Justice fantasy come true just by completing the course. Even with a much sought-after scholarship, the road to becoming a barrister is neither cheap nor simple. Do remember that the Inns can help you to improve your chances of gaining pupillage, so become adept at networking, study extremely hard and moot, moot, moot.
See also: Inns of Court comparison table
You might also be interested in:anchor
- A career at the Bar
- The Bar Professional Training Course