It’s that time of year again. Hundreds of budding barristers are currently waiting to hear whether they are among the lucky few who receive prestigious scholarships from one of the four Inns of Court.
Students from all backgrounds are finding it difficult to fund the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which at London providers can cost upwards of £16,500 for September 2012 entry. Some may dip into savings, take out commercial bank loans, and perhaps pay a visit to the Bank of Mum and Dad. Those who are fortunate enough to have pupillage may also be able to take advantage of a pupillage award advance draw-down. These sources notwithstanding, the fact remains: the BPTC year is an extremely expensive year.
Each year, the four Inns of Court award scholarships and awards to prospective BPTC students based on – and it varies by Inn – means, merit or a combination of both. Each Inn has a different sum of money available. Lincoln’s Inn – the Inn which I am a member of – proudly boasts a whopping £1,524,000, with Inner temple not far behind with approximately £1.2 million. Middle Temple state on their website that their scholarship fund is ‘over £1,000,000’, while Gray’s Inn appears to have a total fund of £711,750.
So there is a huge amount of money – around £4.5 million – on offer to help with those steep BPTC fees. And it is perhaps unsurprising that Lincoln’s Inn has a huge number of applications, given that it has the highest amount on offer. The sums available should only be one consideration, though.
Different Inns have different selection criteria and different selection methods. For example, Middle Temple and Inner Temple interview each applicant, and make a decision based on merit and means. Lincoln’s Inn, however, doesn’t interview every applicant, and generally takes into account merit rather than means. So while Lincoln’s Inn has one of the largest pots of money available, it probably has the most number of applicants, so you may face more fierce competition.
In the past you used to be able to apply to each Inn of Court for financial support. But that is no longer the case, so it’s important to figure out beforehand which Inns’ scholarship criteria suits you best. In practical membership terms, the differences between each Inn is minimal, and you will probably end up dining with colleagues at all of them at some point, so it doesn’t matter a great deal where you eventually end up.
So how do you get the interview, and once you’re there, how do you impress the panel?
You need to have something to talk about, so you need to be interesting and confident. Get back to basics and think what qualities a barrister should have. Imagine the person reading your application or interviewing you is a client; a client wants to have confidence in your abilities, so you have to convey this to your interviewers.
Unfortunately, simply having good grades will not see you through. A career at the Bar is – as I’m sure you are well aware – extremely demanding, and therefore you need to show that you can perform at an extremely high level academically, while at the same time engaging in legal work experience, paid employment, and other interests or hobbies. Hopefully, this won’t be news to you. If it is, you need to do something about it. Put simply, the more legal experience, jobs and interests you have, the more interesting you are as a person. Couple this with a strong academic record, and you’re a serious contender.
The interview will be fine. Moreover, it will be all over before you notice – time flies when you’re under pressure! You have no doubt heard, as I had, horror stories of scholarship interviews. They are created by people who, consciously or subconsciously, want to put you off – either because they didn’t get a scholarship, or they did get a scholarship and want you to know how damn hard it was and how well they’ve done to get one. Ignore it – it’s a load old trousers.
Try and relax and be yourself when you step into the interview room. I know it’s not easy, but you must try. If you appear panicked, unconfident, bewildered or bored, your interviewers will pick up on this, and it is unlikely you’ll do well (even if you are all three of these, find a technique that conceals this!).
You will be asked about all those exciting and interesting things you’ve done with your life and have diligently put down on your application form. Most probably you’ll be asked how those interests and experiences relate to a career at the Bar. You may also be asked to talk about something legal that interests you, or something current in the world of law. This doesn’t mean that you need to spend the preceding month reading the Financial Times from cover to cover, but you should have an idea of what’s going on in the world of law, and the world more generally. It’s even better, in my view, if you can have an opinion as well.
My experience suggests that all this will form the bulk of your interview. You should have of course also prepared answers to all those pesky questions, like ‘Why do you want to be a barrister?’ and ‘In which area of law do you wish to practice and why?’ You’re on your own with those I’m afraid, I’m still in search of the ‘perfect’ answer – not that there necessarily is one…
Obtaining a scholarship from one of the Inns of Court is not only beneficial financially, but it will also do wonders for your CV. Some scholarships awarded by the Inns are highly prestigious, and the fact that you’ve got one says a lot about you as a prospective pupil. There is always a box on pupillage applications for scholarships, awards, and prizes – and, let’s be honest, it doesn’t look great if you’ve got nothing to fill it with. So make sure you have.
Play the long game, and think about what you can do now to increase your chances of success in the future because it matters when you get there. Best of luck.
Jack Smith is a BPTC student at City University
Correction: This article originally stated that it was possible to apply simultaneously to all four of the Inns of Court for scholarships. This is no longer the case.