17 October 2012 | By Becky Waller-Davies
27 October 2010
31 May 2011
23 March 2011
12 December 2007
22 February 2011
Aspiring barristers face different funding challenges to wannabe solicitors. Becky Waller-Davies gives some sound advice on the various options
Not as headline-grabbing as undergraduate degree fees but unfortunately just as costly, conversion course and bar professional training course (BPTC) fees demand a steep investment from any hopeful barrister.
Wannabe solicitors can get funding for their Legal Practice Course (LPC) from law firms, but chambers do not fund BPTC fees even if a pupillage has been secured, due to the self-employed nature of barristers’ work.
For the lucky few an advance on their pupillage, or a ‘drawdown’, can be the answer. This is dependent on three factors, though. First, you must have secured a pupillage before you start the BPTC. Second, that pupillage must be at the better-paid end of the spectrum - the Bar Standards Board minimum salary for pupillages is £12,000, but many pay more and the yearly wage can rise to £65,000 at more lucrative chambers. Third, the chambers in question has to permit this, and not all do. Pupillages start with the legal year in October and any application for drawdown needs to be made one year before you are due to start.
This lack of uniformity from chambers means that many embarking on the BPTC are left without the option of drawdown. So how else can candidates elicit funds from legal institutions?
Inns the money
The four Inns of Court award £4.5m collectively for conversion courses, BPTC fees and pupillages each year. The criteria for scholarships is similar at all the Inns. Merit is always the first consideration, with financial means being tested by some Inns to further pinpoint where the money would be best placed.
Gray’s Inn for example, judges scholarship applications first on merit and then on need if distinguishing between two candidates, while Lincoln’s Inn scholarships are based purely on merit. Middle Temple and Inner Temple base
decisions on whether to award a scholarship on merit and then decide the amount awarded on financial circumstances.
Applicants can apply to only one Inn and all the Inns communicate with each other, so it is important to research the help available from each and choose carefully.
The Inns’ scholarship application deadline is the beginning of November for the BPTC and the beginning of May for the graduate diploma in law (GDL) or common professional examination (CPE). Some Inns interview candidates, some decide on the application form. If your persuasive skills are unfairly distributed across speaking or writing then it is worth bearing this in mind when deciding which Inn to apply to. Both Inner and Middle Temple interview all candidates, Gray’s and Lincoln’s Inn do not.
Scholarships and drawdowns form the limit of the help offered by the Inns and chambers to the young hopefuls coming through their doors, but law schools are another potential source of finance and each differs in their approach to funding.
The College of Law (CoL) offers two BPTC scholarships. One for the full course fees and a runner-up prize of £2,000. New for 2013 will be Gold Awards of £3,000 to GDL students with a first class honours undergraduate degree or distinction level masters degree.
Kaplan Law School offers one scholarship for a 50 per cent reduction in BPTC fees and 10 for a £2,000 reduction in fees. City Law School offers six scholarships of £3,000 to its BPTC students and two Rosie Keane scholarship prizes of £5,000.
BPP Law School, in partnership with Investec, takes a different approach and offers all students a loan of up to £25,000. It has a current APR (annual percentage rate) of 7.9 per cent and interest accrues from the start of the loan rather than the end of the course. This is similar to the loan offered by HSBC but your course provider also being your loan provider does form a neat package.
In addition to loans and scholarships, many schools also help students who run into unpredicted financial difficulties during their studies. These go by the rather antiquated term ‘hardship funds’ and are at the discretion of the school.
Part-time study is also an increasingly popular way for students to get through legal training. Schools are beginning to offer more flexible ways of funding if you choose this option. You may be called to the bar a year later, but using your salary to help pay fees in instalments is a good solution.
The CoL has started to offer this option to students on all part-time courses. Previously these students paid instalments at the beginning of the academic year and then at Christmas. From this year, they can pay a smaller amount each month.
But if scholarship applications are unsuccessful or part-time study doesn’t appeal then the next step is to do it the old fashioned way and pay a visit to the bank.
Bank on it
A personal loan should be the last resort however. Before that come career development loans or a specialist bar loan.
A career development loan (CDL) is available from only two banks, Barclays and the Cooperative. Not intended to fund a GDL or CPE but suitable for the BPTC, the CDL is essentially a government subsidy administered by a bank. The Young People’s Learning Agency pays the interest accrued during your course and for one month afterwards and a repayment holiday also applies for this time, leaving you free to concentrate on the stresses of the course rather than the stresses of financing it.
One drawback of the CDL is that it is only possible to borrow between £300 and £10,000. It will not cover all fees and expenses so another source of funding or personal savings need to cover the remainder.
The other drawback is that after the interest-free period rates can climb to around 9.9 per cent APR. Initial information from banks may show a lower rate but this is calculated from the entire period the loan covers, including the subsidised interest-free period.
This hike in interest can be avoided by switching the debt to a personal loan after the repayment holiday ends but before high rates begin. However, before embarking on this plan check the early repayment conditions of your loan.
If you have been awarded a place on a BPTC then a specialist bar loan could be the answer.
If you have applied for an award at your chosen Inn then there is also the option to apply for a bar loan from HSBC. The Inns of Court and the Bar Council set up this mechanism with the bank in 2008 to provide a loan of up to £25,000 to those who have obtained a BPTC place and who have already applied for an award at their Inn (whether successful or not).
As long as you satisfy HSBC’s credit requirements and your principal account is with the bank for the duration of the loan, HSBC will lend without arrangement fees, with a repayment holiday for 18 months for full-time students and 30 months for those studying part time. Interest at 7 per cent above HSBC’s base rate, which is currently 0.5 per cent, will accrue throughout the loan though, including months spent studying.
Neither Lloyds nor Halifax offer any products suited to postgraduate training as their graduate loans do not have the requisite repayment holidays. Lloyds offers only three months, for example. RBS is much the same - it offers a four-month repayment holiday so long as you have a job offer, so only those with pupillages need apply. It also proffers a not particularly attractive interest rate of 18 per cent APR.
So the traditional bank loan is not the best answer to funding. But other options for paying for the BPTC, GDL or CPE make up for this lack. For those lucky enough to secure drawdown or substantial scholarship the answer is clear. For others, the bar loan and CDL, when approached intelligently, offer the kind of deal you are not likely to encounter often. Use them wisely.
Inns scholarships in-depth
Middle Temple’s scholarships policy is to provide smaller amounts to a greater number of students and provides non-fixed amounts based on individual need. It has just one fixed sum award which is the Diana Princess of Wales Scholarship for £5,000. It is based on a candidate’s character and ability to overcome adversity rather than specific academic achievement and is awarded to a student who has faced serious disadvantage.
The other scholarships are based on individual requirements. Most are available to both BPTC and GDL students, such as: the Queen Mother scholarships, to which the Master of the Bench and barristers make substantial contributions; the Diplock scholarships are funded by a legacy left by lord of appeal Master Diplock; the Harmsworth and Astbury scholarships; and the Jules Thorn and Benefactors scholarships.
The Diana Princess of Wales Scholarship, the Joseph Jackson scholarships and the Named Benefactors scholarships can only be awarded to BPTC students.
Lincoln’s Inn scholarships provide relatively large amounts to a smaller number of students and award on merit only, with financial need not being taken into consideration. There are 100 BPTC scholarships available which range from Lord Mansfield Scholarships of up to £18,000 to Sir Thomas More bursaries of £3,000. Of all the scholarships only the two Tancred Studentships have conditions as the money is donated by the Tancred charities. It is open to male communicant members of the Church of England under the age of 25 and in need of financial assistance.
The Inn awarded 37 scholarships ranging from £7,000 to £2,000 to CPE students this academic year.
Scholarships at Inner Temple for BPTC students come in both fixed amount and variable grant based on candidate need. The fixed sums are seven in number ranging from £17,500 to £20,000 and a further £1.043m is awarded in substantial sums dependent on a student’s needs. Sixteen other minor prizes ranging from £1,500 to £150 are awarded to BPTC students every year.
The CPE and GDL courses are eligible for two Princess Royal scholarships, one of £10,000 and one of £7,500. A further £173,000 is available in general funds, decided by an applicant’s need. The Inner Temple will also guarantee that if a student wins a scholarship at GDL or CPE level they will automatically receive at least the same sum in their BPTC year without having to reapply.
Gray’s Inn awards 52 scholarships totalling £711,750, ranging from eight Bedingfield awards of £17,500 to more minor awards of £3,000. Bedingfield trustees do not have voting power but will be present at any interview given to applicants and offer their opinion on potential awardees.
GDL and CPE students can qualify for six David Karmel awards for £9,200; one Ann Ebsworth award worth £8,000 and one Anthony Bessemer Clark scholarship for £8,000. Ten other CPE awards are available ranging from £6,500 to £3,000.
Outside the Inns
Scholarships and grants aren’t the preserve of the Inns of Court or law schools. Here is Lawyer2B’s round-up of funding available from trusts, charities and associations.
The Kalisher Scholarship Trust
This is a single award for those wanting to practise at the criminal bar and covers all BPTC fees. Established in memory of Michael Kalisher QC, it has run on rotation with each BPTC provider since 2000 and is aimed at students in need of financial assistance. It also offers smaller prizes throughout the year.
The Bar Council’s law reform essay competition
An annual essay competition for law undergraduates, GDL students, BPTC students and pupils. The winner receives £4,000 and the runner-up £2,500. There are £1,500 prizes for the best and runner-up GDL/CPE essays and two £500 highly commended awards.
The Inderpal Rahal Memorial Trust
One, or occasionally two, grants a year of £2,000 for postgraduate women from an immigrant or refugee background undertaking legal exams or pupillages or other placement or research.
The Graham Rushton Award
Blind and partially-sighted law students can apply for this grant of around £7,000 via the RNIB.