Join for the croquet tournament and pop-up restaurant in The Walks, stay for the cosy atmosphere and one-on-one careers advice.
Gray's is one of the two smaller Inns (Middle is the other) and offers a more intimate atmosphere than Lincoln's or Inner. It's so snug you may find yourself rubbing shoulders with Baroness Hale – the only female Supreme Court judge – who is a bencher, or Guardian legal correspondent Joshua Rozenberg who has an apartment here. Going back a few years, previous members include Rose Heilbron (the first female QC) and former Lord Chief Justice Tom Bingham.
Around 300 students join Gray's Inn each year. Of those roughly 225 are BPTC students – the remainder are law undergrads and GDL-ers. “Because we're small we can provide an awful lot of events and support per member,” says education director Quinn Clarke. Keep reading to find out what's on offer.
Gray's scholarship fund of £800,000 may appear small, but per head it's actually pretty generous. In 2016 Gray's Inn expects to award 15 to 20 GDL scholarships worth £1,000 to £10,000 and 40 to 50 BPTC scholarships of £10,000 to £19,000. The BPTC scholarships are relatively high, and for one member – now a junior barrister – this was a key reason for joining Gray's. “Their scholarships are the most meaningful – those at the other Inns wouldn't have gone as far towards paying my BPTC fees.” There are also a dozen pupillage scholarships – including nine for undertaking publicly funded work – two for studying abroad, and the £10,000 Hebe Plunkett award for a disabled student.
After an initial paper sift of applications, scholarship hopefuls face an interview panel of three barristers. In one instance the panel consisted of a commercial silk with 40 years' experience, a retired government lawyer, and an employment barrister of 25 years' call. Interviewers look for four basic qualities: intellectual ability, motivation to succeed at the Bar, potential as an advocate, and personal qualities. The first of these carries double the weight of the others, but Quinn Clarke was keen to stress the important of the second quality – motivation to succeed a the Bar: “The panel is looking if they can visualise you in practice. Do you have self-motivation? Can you survive in a self-employed environment?”
Interviewees are given a legal problem question ten to 15 minutes before the interview starts, usually on a topical issue like libel reform, privacy rights, or the anonymity of sex crime suspects. The question isn't too legalistic, but you are expected to use your answer to show off your legal knowledge and advocacy skills. These skills are examined in other ways too: “If someone has done a moot, the panel will dig into that,” says Quinn Clarke. There may also be questions about non-legal extra-curricular activities – “being involved in a drama club, playing the banjo, or holding down a job at university,” are the examples Quinn Clarke gives. And one of our sources recalled being asked this tricky question at the end of their interview: 'What achievement outside academia and the law are you most proud of?'
Education, training and careers advice
“The education department is very good and really helpful,” recalled one member of their student days. “My impression is that you get more one-on-one help and advice here than at other Inns.” The department offers careers advice including CV-checking sessions, mock interviews, and a 'pupillage speed-dating' event – essentially a clinic at which 70 students chat to barristers about their backgrounds, CVs and careers plans. The rest of the year students can use an online system to request a one-hour mock interviews or CV chat with a practising barrister.
Students are also assigned a mentor who's usually around seven to eight years calls. One junior member we interviewed complemented the opportunity mentoring provides to network and socialise with practising barristers. Mentors are assigned for 18 months, but the relationship can last longer. The Inn also organises training sessions, covering topics like professional ethics, witness handling, and case analysis, and helps set up marshalling.
Qualifying sessions and networking
Most activities put on for students count as qualifying sessions: dinners, moots, debate nights, advocacy exercises, a residential weekend, even mattins in chapel (with a drinks reception afterwards). At dinners in hall students and practising members sit mixed together – one source estimated there are perhaps three students for every practising barrister present. “The dinners are great as you get to know other barristers – that helps your career development and is also good for camaraderie,” said one student member.
In addition, there are 'mixed messes' at which two students sit with a bencher and one other member. “The benchers and barristers are there because they fully expect to be ask questions about pupillages and minis,” says Quinn Clarke – so it's a thumbs up for networking fans. One student member commented: “The barristers are very helpful: you can ask about mini-pupillages and in written applications and interviews you can refer to the fact you've spoken to that person.” Another source added: “The experience you get at qualifying sessions also helps when making applications. For example, I did a moot on family law, and in my pupillage interviews I referred to the way I prepared for it and read up on the case.”
The cost of qualifying sessions is fairly modest, with moots costing £10 and dinner £20 to £25. Quinn Clarke estimates you can experience a varied 12 sessions – including the call ceremony – for £275. One satisfied junior member commented: “If you get stuck in at the Inn, you get your money back a million times over.”
“Gray's is smaller and that means there's more interaction between students, benchers and the education department,” observed one student member. Another source agreed: “The small size means you start to recognise faces quickly.” Gray's has a reputation for being somewhat more traditional than the other Inns, but we'd urge you not too pay too much heed to this preconception – we didn't pick up a more traditional vibe here than at the other Inns.
Like all corners of the Bar Gray's does still have some traditional touches – there are cricket, golf and croquet clubs, but no football team, for example. However, a look at the rules for dining and other events shows a distinct lack of fustiness. One student member reported little in the way of hierarchy or stand-offishness: “To me the process of networking and meeting people came quite easily because of the way qualifying sessions are organised. You just stand around with a drink and a canapé and enjoy a nice normal boozy conversation.” And booze should be in plentiful supply – one interviewee shared with us the rumour that Gray's has the highest per capita spend on alcohol of any of the Inns.
Facilities and location
We visited Gray's on a somewhat rainy day in January but it didn't dampen how impressed we were by its charming chapel and Great Hall. The latter boasts the newest hammer-beam ceiling in Britain – the hall and chapel were gutted during the Blitz but later painstakingly rebuilt to their original splendour (the ancient stained-glass windows had been kept in storage). The rest of the Inn was largely levelled during World War Two but then rebuilt in the 1950s in Georgian style. One of the few buildings not demolished by the Luftwaffe – number one South Square – was where Charles Dickens first worked as a solicitors' clerk.
Two doors down from Dickens' old workplace you'll find commercial/insolvency set South Square. Above it is a flat with four bedrooms reserved for BPTC students. Candidates shortlisted for a BPTC scholarship can apply to live in one of these rooms during the course. There is a separate interview for this 'residential scholarship' after the BPTC scholarships are awarded. Next door at number five South Square, the education department houses a suite of rooms for training sessions, meetings and moots as well as a smart double-height library.
Going from South Square to Gray's Inn Square you'll pass under the new Bridge Bar, which was opened in 2011. Head down the passageway on the left and you'll be facing towards City Law School (which is on the Inn's estate) and Gray's Inn's gardens: The Walks. In summer you'll find a pop-up restaurant here and a traditional ice-cream vendor.
Every Christmas, Gray's members write and perform a comic 'Miscellany' – a cross between a panto and a cabaret show. In one recent year the show was titled 'A Night at the Cinema' and featured Charlie Chaplin (not the real one) and Baroness Hale.