Adam Fellows explains the eccentric world of the inns of court
Despite the size of London, I always seem to bump into people I wouldn’t expect to see. Idly checking Facebook one day while I was tidying up at work, I saw an old university friend had ‘checked into’ Lincoln’s Inn. I sent her a message asking her what she was doing. She responded that she had since moved on to check out the Temple Church and was enjoying a drink in a bar called Pegasus. I told her to wait there, as Inner Temple is my Inn and I was planning on heading to Pegasus anyway after work.
After the usual exchange of ‘so how have you been?’, she asked me what the Inn was about. I explained very poorly, “This is one of the four institutions where that trained people in the skills required of barristers. They don’t really do that anymore, but you still have to join an Inn to become a barrister.”
Her reply: “Why?”
I say, “Well, they are the only institutions that can actually call you to the Bar. Even though you do the course at a college, you cannot become a barrister without be called by your Inn.”
“You have to … ‘dine’?” I was given an incredulous look.
OK. That one was my fault. “Well, the proper name is for them is qualifying sessions, but traditionally part of the requirements for becoming a barrister was to eat a lot of dinners. Now, there are still dinners, but there are also lecture nights, residential weekends, terms lunches, and helping out in the training of new barristers and advocacy trainers”.
This flurry of explanation seemed to have passed my friend by. She is still stuck on the concept of dining. “You need to eat dinner to qualify?”
“Well, it’s all about becoming part of the legal community,” slightly chuffed with myself because I am, after all, a member of the best Inn (though anyone from Middle Temple, Gray’s Inn or Lincoln’s Inn is allowed to disagree). “You get to mix with everyone, from the most junior barristers to the most senior judges, some of the finest legal minds in the country."
“So basically, part of your training is socialising, eating and drinking?”
“In a very broad sense, yes. What do you think of it all?”
She looked hard at me and said “If that is a large part of being a barrister, you will do very well at it”.
I just sipped my wine silently; my friends knows me extremely well.
The Bar has done a lot to adapt to changing times, but people still view it as a profession that can appear very isolated, inaccessible, and above all confusing to outsiders. The continuous look of incredulity on my friend’s face suggests that those who think that might just have a point.
Me? I booked as many qualifying sessions as I could, I got involved, and I loved it. I wouldn’t change the slightly bizarre and archaic system for the world.
Adam Fellows is a non-practising barrister, called by the Inner Temple in July 2011, who wants to specialise in public and media law. He currently works as a legal researcher.