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Award law scholarships on need rather than merit, urges Lady Justice Hallett

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Otherwise legal profession will contain only children of the rich

British currency

As the Inns of Court scholarship deadline draws near — the window for applications closes today — a Court of Appeal judge has questioned the practice of awarding law school sponsorship on the basis of merit.

Currently two of the Inns, Lincoln’s and Gray’s, allocate their annual combined £2million scholarship pots according to pure academic performance and advocacy ability.

The other two, Middle Temple and Inner Temple — which offer a similar amount of money — take into account both the students’ need for financial help and their academic ability, although a host of their top awards are assessed on merit only.

At a time of spiralling higher education costs and concerns about social mobility going backwards, this isn’t good enough, suggests Hallett, who is well-known for sitting as coroner in the inquest over the 7/7 bombings.

Speaking at the Institute for Government’s ‘Legally Diverse’ event this week — which has been filmed and placed on YouTube (embedded below) — she said:

The Inns of Court used to provide scholarships to the best students … I think we have got to ask whether we should be providing scholarships to those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Otherwise we will revert to the legal profession being only for the rich and privileged.

Despite the more enlightened approach taken by Inner Temple — which has led the way in including need in scholarship assessment criteria and is well known for its outreach programme — news last month that it had given its top financial student award to the daughter of one of its own benchers highlighted the systemic problems surrounding diversity at the bar.

In her talk, Hallett went on to demand the tackling of this sort of “unconscious bias” that risks seeing “mini-mes” given favourable treatment to ease their progression through the legal profession.

An area that Hallet didn’t address was the lack of publicity given by the bar to its student barrister scholarships — which total a whopping £5 million. With none of the bar’s various governing bodies managing to even send out a press release to flag up today’s Inns scholarship deadline, it’s little wonder that news of the awards tends to only circulate in networks with existing connections to the legal profession.

Recent figures show that 44% of barristers were privately educated; only 7% of the general population went to private schools. And new research by Legal Cheek found that 79% of new tenants at the leading 50 chambers had graduated from Oxford or Cambridge.

Watch Lady Justice Hallett’s talk in full below:

24 Comments

Anonymous

Middle Temple award the type of scholarship on merit, the amount on need. As a result, you could get the Queen Mother Scholarship (i.e. their top award) but get one of the lowest amounts of money. Conversely, you could get a less prestigious scholarship, but enough money to cover your BPTC fees. It’s at Inner that some of the top scholarships are awarded with a particular amount attached, regardless of need. Stories like this are important – please get it right LC.

(15)(4)

Alexander Carter-Silk

I know this is horrendously politically incorrect, but may I just say that Lady Justice Hallett has a stunning picture. It’s definitely the most attractive for her age range and experience level that I’ve ever cum across.

No, that’s not a typographical error.

Absolutely stunning.

(10)(13)

Give it a rest

This shit is so old now.

(21)(6)

Anonymous

Please stop posting this crap. It’s boring and annoying. Don’t you have a job?

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Ms Charlotte Proudperson

Noooo! It’s keeping the flame alive!!!

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BaronAnon

If you have enough money to take the BPTC then the allure of these scholarships is primarily their impact on your CV.

If you do not then the allure is primarily to facilitate your taking the BPTC.

The amount awarded ought to be based on need, though the awards themselves should be given on merit, ergo the Middle approach is right.

I can say with something just shy of unreserved certainty that any other arguments on the subject are likely to be based on loftier discussion of fair equality of opportunity generally. That is, the equity of pitting candidates from completely different backgrounds against each other and assessing them on merit.

It is common sense that those from wealthy backgrounds, with parents at the bar, will outperform those from poorer backgrounds when assessed by the kind of people they have been interracting with their entire lives.

Human flourishing is contingent, at least in part, on circumstance. Nobody chooses the circumstances they were born in to. Account should not be taken of fortune you didn’t earn. Yet this is precisely what happens when you differentiate on ‘merit’ between two such candidates.

Find me the solution, LC. It’s baffled the best minds in political theory for most of the 20th century.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t think it is common sense at all that applicants from wealthy backgrounds will outperform applicants from less privileged backgrounds in a scholarship interview. At some point these differences get ironed out, and it seems to me (from experience) that most of that ironing out has happened by the time people come out of university.

If your contention is otherwise, then it seems that you would also be saying that it is “common sense” that those of my colleagues and opponents who are from wealthy and privileged backgrounds will outperform me in court. If you do think that, then fuck you very much.

(2)(4)

BaronAnon

Allow me to clarify.

My argument was predicated on a case wherein two candidates of completely equal value are pitted against each other.

In such circumstances it appears to me common sense that the candidate from a wealthy background will achieve the scholarship. Amongst other advantages, they will benefit enormously from being used to talking with people from the same social strata as themselves.

I suggest that such advantages routinely tip the scales in favour of the candidate. I suggest this is unfair because these advantages are in no way earned or deserved. They are advantages obtained through the accident of birth (to coin a phrase) and ought not have an impact on a candidates’ prospects of success.

In fact, one could go further and suggest that in a situation where two equally eligible candidates compete for one award it is the candidate from the poorer background who ought to be successful.

If it is the case (as I believe it invariably is) that such a candidate has suffered a harder time earning the successes that his/her competitor also enjoys, then ought we not assign greater value to those achievements? That is, if a wealthy candidate and a poor candidate have both slogged their guts out to obtain the same first class degree from the same university then the poorer candidate’s achievement should be recognised as more impressive than the wealthier candidate’s. Particularly where the wealthy candidate is private-school educated.

That last bit will no doubt ruffle some feathers.

I do not mean to suggest that your wealthier colleagues will outperform you in court. I do not mean to suggest that wealthier people are inherently better barristers than poorer people. This is plainly wrong. What you say about the ironing effect of university is sensical. Though I would be reluctant to say all such differences are ironed out at university. Furthermore scholarships are typically applied for and awarded during a candidate’s final year. Part-way through the ironing process, as it were.

(1)(2)

Lord Harley of Bollocks

“Award on need rather than merit otherwise the legal profession will contain only children of the rich”

This is hilarious. She’s saying that rich kids are more intelligent that poor kids, as awarding solely on merit excludes poor kids.

Moron.

(0)(6)

Anonymous

Not more intelligent – but they will likely have access to better work experience and more useful information, amongst other things.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Alex, you are obsessed about Inner awarding a treasurer’s daughter a scholarship. You’re like a broken record about it.

Either produce evidence of a bias or let it go.

Conspiracy theorists don’t go home with the winning trophy and fuck the prom queen.

(20)(4)

Anonymous

You need to learn the difference between bias and apparent bias.

(0)(4)

Anonymous

And you need to learn the facts of the situation. Her father played no part in the decision making process. The fact that he happened to be a bencher is therefore completely irrelevant.

Barristers are fiercely independent people. The idea that they would have shown special treatment to an individual merely because she happened to be the daughter of one of the Inn’s 200 benchers is laughable.

Of course, if you have any evidence disproving any of what I’ve said, please provide it.

Otherwise, as I’ve said before, shut up!

(6)(2)

Not Amused

I agree with you on your main point. I have never endorsed the snide criticism of the one example of that bencher’s daughter.

However you go too far when you say “Barristers are fiercely independent people”. I wish we were. But I’m afraid there is far too often a herd mentality amongst my learned friends.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Not Amused, you’re not counsel are you? Barristers tend not to have time to dedicate themself to Legal Cheek 24/7.

(0)(1)

Not Amused

Well, to be fair, Jonathan Sumption found time to write a ‘not overly succinct’ account of the hundred yawns war. Barristers have, I suspect, as much time as other people (they might even be made of the same flesh and blood).

Not Amused is designed to give confidence to kids who might otherwise lack confidence to pursue a profession in the law. That is a pretty important task – so it’s worth a bit of effort.

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Not Amused

Well, clearly we will always need to award these on some version of merit. We can’t just try to find the poorest person in the UK and ask them if they want to be a barrister and give them free cash.

Further, I’m sure that we all recognise that poor born children can and do succeed on a meritorious basis. Poor born kids can, do (and hopefully will in greater numbers) go to Oxbridge.

I think therefore that the Middle’s way of doing it is best. Award on merit but only give cash to the needy. If all of your scholarships go to wealthy kids then invent some more scholarships until (going down the list of merit) all of your cash is spent.

(4)(0)

Lord Scally of Tesco's

“We can’t just try to find the poorest person in the UK and ask them if they want to be a barrister and give them free cash.”

How do you think I got to where I am now? 😉

(1)(0)

Anonymous

This really is ridiculous, I get the fees are high but scholarships are just as much about your career prospects as they are about money. We’re forever told that having a good scholarship on your app will help and it demonstrates that you have shown commitment to the bar etc.

Why should people who come from a middle income background be excluded from having that opportunity?

(7)(2)

Etonlover

Then maybe its time to change what people are told. Perhaps mentorships or work experience should be awarded instead of money. What use is money to rich or middle income students when they don’t need it.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t understand why determining who gets any scholarship from any of the four Inns cannot be based on both merit and need. Surely it would be fairly simple to carry out a balancing exercise?

Handing out scholarships to candidates with low prospects but in dire need is just as silly as handing them out to high-flyers who don’t need the money.

(2)(0)

Etonlover

Thats why you make it a combination of both merit and need. Merit first and then qualify it by basing it on need. Plenty of scholarships are like that.

(0)(0)

Lord Lyle of the Isles

Charlotte Proudman is a barrister, sort of and she is doing a PhD in mutilated vaginas at Oxford University I believe. Do we need this? I mean has anyone ever been convicted of mutilating a vagina under the Mutilated Vagina Act ever

(0)(1)

Lord Scally of Tesco's

These comments are going to be smashing

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