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2 December 2013
The Inns of Court are the beating heart of London’s legal profession, say aspiring barristers Stuart Baran and Anita Davies
The existence of the Inns of Court, tucked away between Chancery Lane and the Thames, is for many modern Londoners a well-kept secret. The more adventurous tourists who do wander into the beautifully preserved squares and cloisters of the Inns are left open-mouthed at their historical charm – not to mention the peace and quiet – but have little idea of the many things that go on behind the façade.
For some, such an olde-worlde environment is an unfortunate symbol of the exclusive history of the barristers’ profession, but the role of the Inns has changed. They have evolved along with the profession and are now heavily involved in efforts to make the bar more accessible and diverse. Popping in to dine on a Friday lunchtime to see barristers, staff and students tucking in and hearing the hubbub of conversation gives a better picture of what the Inns are for – they are places to talk, listen and meet other barristers. And anyone who has been to a careers talk by a barrister or on a mini-pupillage will know the value of hearing about your intended career from the horse’s mouth. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge – and some pretty amusing stories – contained within these walls and this is where barristers come to share them.
The Inns make every effort to be as approachable as possible, and you will find them only too happy to help anyone who asks. For many would-be barristers, as well as offering a good spot to eat their packed lunch on a sunny day, the Inns are a vital hub for training, meeting other barristers, and – often most importantly – funding. Behind the oak-panelled doors is a network of people whose job it is to help you get the most from your Inn, and make the best of your opportunities in preparing for the bar.
Okay I’m intrigued, but why bother?
All prospective barristers must join an Inn before beginning the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). There are four: Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple [see below] and Middle Temple, and all are open to students regardless of what area of practice they intend to pursue. Once a student has joined an Inn they will eventually be called to the bar by that Inn.
They must attend 12 qualifying sessions – dinners, lectures and the like – before being admitted as a fully-fledged barrister, which is not as insulting as it sounds.
You will come to rely on your Inn during your time as a student – partly because you will need to and partly because you will find that the more time you spend at your Inn, the more you enjoy and get out of it.
When do I need to sort this out?
With already burgeoning student debt and some pretty frightening pupillage statistics for those on the BPTC, there’s no doubt that you have to take a long, hard look at whether this is the career for you. Research is essential, and the wealth of data and articles here in Lawyer2B and its related website www.lawyer2b.com is not a bad place to start.
Talk to barristers – lots of them – to ask whether your experience is a good springboard for the bar and what you might do to improve your chances.
And where better to do this than a big organisation chock-full of barristers of every level of experience, with lots of programmes for putting you in touch with other barristers and staffed by professionals who know the game well and get out of bed precisely to answer questions like yours?
So here is our first piece of advice: join your Inn early. We both joined before starting our law conversion courses and never regretted it. It is a valuable source of advice, mooting and other experiences when you know you are intent on heading to the bar, and being able to spread the cost of dining sessions over more than a year is no bad thing either.
Cash and carrying on
Neither of us could have contemplated the career we are training for without the support of our Inn (Inner Temple, since you ask). That support comes in many forms and we have both made a concerted effort to become regular, recognised nuisances around the Inn. We have applied or talked our way into speaker events, conferences, mooting competitions, mentoring schemes, dinners, marshalling and even writing the occasional Lawyer 2B article, all because of the opportunities offered by our Inn.
But there is no point being coy about it: a major concern for any intending bar student is money. Each of the Inns offers vast amounts of scholarship cash to help. Neither of us would be here writing this article if they did not.
Scholarships of up to £10,000 for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) year and a dizzying £20,000 for the BPTC year are available. Provision varies slightly between the Inns. It is worth getting in touch with each to find out what is available and what they consider when making decisions – is it merit-only, needs-based, or a mixture?
You will find they are happy to talk about scholarships as they know how important they are to students.
So which to choose?
The decision about which Inn to join comes down to different things for different people. It might be knowing someone who is already there or being familiar with the Inn from a university society, for example.
“Your choice of Inn could be guided by atmosphere, character or history, size, scholarship process, range of student societies or opportunities for advocacy training,” says Anthony Dursi, recruitment and outreach manager at Inner Temple.
Dursi adds that Inns get a variety of views when surveying students on their choices. One student picked her Inn because she preferred its emblem to those of the others.
But although there are differences between the Inns, in the long term you will convince yourself you made the right choice, whichever you pick. Whichever Inn you do choose, do not neglect it – pay the place some attention, then milk it for all it is worth.
Good luck and happy dining.
Student view: The education and training team are fantastic – they are friendly, organised and helpful – and an added bonus is getting emails from scholarships and recruitment officer Eamonn O’Reilly in the voice of Mrs Doyle from Father Ted. The financial help the Inn provides is invaluable and if you get a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) award the Inn guarantees funding to the same level for your Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) year and you can apply for a top-up. The food is excellent and the Inn tries to provide choice in qualifying sessions. You can go to dine but there are also lectures if you don’t fancy a meal.
General: The Inn has a reputation for producing both European and world debating champions. There are many societies students can join, including the mooting, debating and drama societies, as well as gaining automatic membership of the Inner Temple Student Association.
Scholarships: Inner Temple awards about £1.26m each year, to be distributed between the BPTC, Common Professional Examination (CPE), internships, pupillages and disability awards.
Contact: Eamonn O’Reilly, scholarships and recruitment officer, on 020 7797 8210 or firstname.lastname@example.org