London's Inns of Court are oases of calm amid the hustle and bustle of the City's legal heartland. The four Inns – Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn – have more than a little of the Oxbridge college about them.
In addition to teaching, guidance and scholarships, the Inns provide a social network for members as well as a calm environment in which to work. A stroll through them offers a front row view of the history that's shaped the Inns as we know them today. Inside each you'll find a drove of baronial oil paintings, the austere expressions of past grandees, judges, heads of state and prime ministers gazing out from the wood panelling; meanwhile, their idyllic gardens preserve a bygone era of drinks and croquet on the lawn.
In addition to teaching, guidance and scholarships, the Inns provide a social network for members as well as a calm environment in which to work.
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, seeing as membership is for life, it’s a decision worth mulling over. Although all four offer similar services and facilities, each maintains its own flavour and atmosphere, thanks in large part to their differing sizes. Such nuances are hard to pick up on from the outside, however, so we suggest visiting the Inns in person to see which one most appeals before settling on one. This is easily done – just call up and ask for a tour.
In the meantime, soak up the wealth of promotional materials the Inns produce as all are packed with helpful information. You can also check out our Inns of Court Comparison Table for further details. There is an old rhyme that attempts to delineate each Inn's identity – 'Inner for the rich, Middle for the poor, Lincoln’s for the scholar, Gray’s for the bore' – but pay it no heed: it's been widely discredited and has no basis in fact.
Aspiring barristers need to join an Inn before starting the BPTC, but it’s a good idea to consider a head start on your membership seeing as they offer around £4.5m in scholarships between them. This money is reserved for GDL and BPTC students as well as pupils. The deadlines for scholarship applications usually occur in the calendar year before the course begins, so mark your diary accordingly. Detailed information about these dates can be found on the Inns’ websites or in their hard-copy brochures.
Inns of Court scholarship deadlines for courses in the 2016/17 academic year:
BPTC scholarships: 6 November 2015
GDL scholarships: 6 May 2016
Make no mistake: landing a scholarship is a competitive business. Applicants face panels of current members (which occasionally include judges) who examine their 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, worth around £15,000 each. A huge number of smaller awards are also available.
Another plus of joining early is that there are additional funds to help facilitate mini-pupillages, internships and other forms of relevant work experience. Check out the Inns’ websites or brochures for details on these opportunities. Furthermore, students living away from London can get access to financial assistance to cover transport costs to visit the Inns, and money is also available to cover the cost of ‘qualifying sessions’, 12 of which must be attended before being ‘called to the Bar’ (though the final one can be the call ceremony itself).
Some of the qualifying sessions are educational, while others are designed to help students socialise, network and absorb the customs of the Bar.
Some of the qualifying sessions are educational, while others are 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 and even weekend brunches. During one illuminating visit we saw pinball machines being set up by people who would later return for the evening's entertainment dressed as Elvis.
Once a member of an Inn, students can be mentored by practitioners in their chosen field and take part in marshalling schemes that see them shadow a judge for a week, observing cases and discussing them at the end of the day. There are also educational workshops to polish advocacy skills and seminars discussing specific areas of law or courtroom techniques. Beyond that are a range of societies for interests like drama, music and mooting/debating. All Inns offer mooting at internal, inter-Inn or national level, and we fully recommend you get involved in some capacity as mooting experience is often a big draw for chambers recruiters.
Joining an Inn is the first step of the undeniably long slog that is becoming a barrister. While excitement at the prospect is understandable, make sure you don't forget the following mantra: 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 won't make your Lord Chief Justice fantasy come true by simply completing the course. Even with a much sought-after scholarship under your belt, the barrister route is neither cheap nor simple.
The Inns provide resources that can certainly improve your chances of gaining pupillage. Use them wisely.