Comment

Under-promoted, oddly-timed and confusing to outsiders: why the bar is not making the most of its scholarships

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60

There’s £5 million, for those in the know

The annual Inns of Court Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) scholarship deadline slipped by last week with barely a whisper.

I only found out about it after I happened to Google bar scholarship deadline dates after a meeting with a chambers in which we’d lamented the low profile of awards for future barristers.

With £5 million up for grabs for GDL and Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) students, there is a great story here to shout about. Yet the bar is strangely quiet about its huge cash giveaways. Indeed, the only promotion I could find for last week’s deadline were are few social media posts made by the four Inns of Court that received minimal engagement.

The bar says that more is being done behind the scenes through links with university careers services. But based on what’s in the public domain, you suspect that those with access to informal bar communication channels (namely, plugged-in barristers’ sons and daughters) are at a significant advantage when it comes to getting a shot at the scholarship millions. Sadly they are usually the ones who least need it.

The timing of last week’s GDL scholarship was also pretty horrible — right in the middle of exam revision season. Why would you put a scholarship deadline then?

Not much better is the Inns’ BPTC scholarship in the first week of November each year, barely a month after students have started their courses. Why not delay it until January, when most law firms have their vacation scheme application deadlines, having promoted them heavily in advance for several months?

Then there is the fact that the scholarships are not exactly straightforward to understand. The money is split in varyingly sized portions between the four Inns of Court (institutions that require a detailed explanation in themselves to most non-lawyers), which then award a host of different awards with a range of different assessment criteria.

“You need to be able to grasp all of this sort of thing if you aspire to become a barrister,” defenders of the current system often say. And some students without family connections who really want to become a barrister obviously do go to this trouble. But most just go and do magic circle training contracts instead.

And this is what the bar seems to collectively fail to grasp. While it sits back, ultra-competitive City law firms, with increasingly progressive graduate recruitment agendas and big marketing bucks, are hoovering up the hot shot students from working class backgrounds who may not have made it to Oxbridge but have excelled where they did end up.

Many of these individuals are the sort of self-starters who would thrive at the bar — if only they had heard of the scholarships that would get them through the vocational training stage. What they do know about, though, after being bombarded from almost angle about them, is corporate law firm GDL and LPC sponsorship deals. Why go to a branch of the profession that doesn’t seem to want you, when another very clearly does?

If the bar is serious about broadening its talent pool, it needs to wake up.

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60 Comments

Anonymous

If a prospective barrister doesn’t have the motivation to make even a basic Google search for the process of becoming a barrister, and require being spoonfed information about the Inns and scholarships, then I seriously doubt they have what it takes to have a successful career at the bar. For Christ’s sake, it’s not as if anyone’s asking people to visit libraries or write letters, as was once necessary; a law student can read about the entire process and make an application whilst lying in bed.

(64)(6)

Anonymous

Funny that, I made my application whilst lying in your bed, with your mum.

(5)(6)

Anonymous

What is the actual justification meant to be for the November deadline for BPTC scholarship applications? The Inns don’t actually seem to look at them until months later when the interviews occur.

(6)(2)

Anonymous

Same goes for pupillage apps. I made an app at the beginning of February for an interview in June. The Bar must be a busy place…

(0)(5)

Anonymous

Err, yes. Were you under the impression it was a fairly quiet and laid-back life?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Just out in the time to find out the deadlines.

It’s not rocket science.

(0)(3)

Mr.Charles

Not hearing about the scholarships? Are you daft? Its called research. If you are serious about being a barrister you should do your research. The inns all have websites, so does the bar council, all of which identify scholarships.

No one hands you anything on a platter to get into the bar, you need to be pro-active. If you miss a deadline you only have yourself to blame.

(26)(4)

Anonymous

Deadlines are binary instruments of heteronormative oppression.

(19)(3)

Just Anonymous

Alex. I have no family connections at the Bar. Nor did I attend Oxbridge.

Yet I obtained Inn scholarships.

I found out about them because, having decided I was rather interested in the Bar, I went and researched the Bar – and very quickly discovered them.

The information isn’t hidden. It isn’t a secret. It’s there to be found.

So, given that basic research will uncover them, and given that students should be conducting basic research into any career they seek to pursue, I’m really struggling to see the problem here.

(44)(2)

Anonymous

It’s not plastered here there and everywhere, but it’s hardly a closely guarded secret. Go on the Inns’ websites and you’ll find it. Anyone with the slightest inclination to practice at the Bar will discover the Inns, and thereby discover scholarships. Careers services are aware, former Bar students are aware, word filters to those deserving and motivated enough to listen.
As for deadlines, we’ve all seen how long it takes to receive news of an interview after a January application (or sooner, for non-Gateway), that’s because corralling the cats to sit down for this type of thing is very difficult.
I volunteered at a scholarships day, there were concerns with having sufficiently qualified panel members on all the necessary interview days. It’s not easy to pin them down to a date.
I find this article’s ‘critique’ largely unfounded and advocating spoon-feeding rather than providing actual assistance it claims students need.
If you’re serious about the Bar, you’ll find scholarship information. If not, why flood Bar schools with less-than-enthusiastic, directionless, ‘chancers’ by publicising them just as much as Gladstone Brookes floods our subconscious?
Non-oxbridge, non-Russel group, scholarship recipient speaking.

(17)(2)

Anonymous

(same anon)
As for missing the deadline, we’ve all kicked ourselves for missing an application deadline, including pupillage applications. That’s not the fault of chambers for not renting billboard space to shout it from the rooftops, it’s our own for not managing our time or not researching ahead of time. The same can be said for scholarships, both GDL and BPTC.
Follow the right Twitter accounts, sign-up for the right mailing lists and (as I have been) you will be bombarded day-after-day about scholarship deadlines.
The author should follow the Inns on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook; they post regularly about scholarships around application season, and even retweet/repost each other’s deadlines.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Still bitter you didn’t finish Alex?

(5)(3)

Alex A

No, YOU’RE bitter.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Wow, this comment has remained for 4.5 hours

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Agree with all of the above. In addition, if you are so concerned about the deadline slipping by, perhaps next year you can publish an article a week ahead of the deadline rather than a week after. You certainly don’t let gateway slip past unnoticed.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

I had no help whatsoever in formulating my plan for a career at the Bar, but was able to find everything I needed online. The extent to which scholarships are advertised is a non-issue. There is, however, an issue of Inns awarding scholarships to people who never get pupillage.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

The most fundamental issue about the bar isn’t access, or diversity, or cost, or anything like that – it’s that there are way too many people training to be barristers, all chasing a very small number of pupillages. Until that issue is rectified, people will continue getting screwed over.

(17)(2)

Anonymous

This, a million times over. It’s getting ridiculous.

(9)(0)

Alex Aldridge

Thanks for your responses. I accept the point about info about Inns scholarships being available to those who actively seek it out. But this doesn’t engage with the main argument of the article — which is criticising the fact that Inns scholarships are promoted less intensely than the solicitor equivalent of law firm GDL/LPC sponsorship deals, and so reach a smaller pool of potential applicants.

The reason Legal Cheek (or any law news website) didn’t run a news story about last week’s inns scholarship deadline is because no press release was sent out (and as a result we had no idea the deadline was about to close and nor did any other legal journalists). That’s pretty extraordinary given how much money is at stake here, but obviously good for those in the know because it means there is less competition. I’m troubled that so many at the bar seem to fail to grasp this.

(10)(10)

Anonymous

Fuck off Alex.

(10)(12)

Barrington

So what you’re saying is…you’ve got your failed barrister panties in a twist because no one sent you a press release to save you from having to take five minutes out of your busy day setting up comically overpriced and under-attended conferences to discover for yourself some boring information for a boring “article” for your blog?

(9)(3)

Anonymous

Whoa, you guys are all super mean to the writers on this website. I can be a dick at times, but I can’t imagine facing the kind of abuse Alex and co face every single day on here.

(16)(5)

Anonymous

They could always write good articles… just sayin’.

(6)(2)

A student

I love this site! And all the stories!

I also love how Alex works really hard to put on the big legal cheek conference with all the top names from the legal industry, who will give me top tips on how to bag that top pupillage/training contract and ALSO give me up to 30 minutes mingling time with the speakers, all for the knock down price of just less than £300 inclusive of VAT!!!xx

Alex

Thanks Mum, love you!

Alex Aldridge

Our Future of Legal Education and Training Conference is not a student event. It’s for graduate recruitment and L&D professionals at law firms and legal academics, plus lawyers involved in trainee/pupil recruitment. We do however offer a number of free places to our student campus ambassadors, as we explain on the Conference page https://www.legalcheek.com/conference/

A student

But I saved up all my heating money! I’ve been freezing this year! And eating lentils! For what?!

Anonymous

No press release was sent out…?

Do me a favour

These are academic institutions, it’s all online

Wotta douche

Anonymous

BUT THERE WASN’T A PRESS RELEASE TELLING ME THIS ISN’T A STUDENT EVENT HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT!!!!

Anonymous

So you’ve just admitted you don’t do any research of your own, you only parrot press releases sent to you?

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Legal Cheek is now just wank. Complete fucking wank.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

Why would it matter that the GDL deadline is “in the middle of law exam revision” when it’s for people who didn’t take law degrees. Duhhhhhh

(7)(1)

Anonymous

I was the sort of undergraduate who got a legal article published and had done a moot at lincolns inn against another university before lord justice balcombe during year 3 of 3.

I wanted to be a barrister and i was vaguely aware that you had to join an inn.

As soon as i had finished my last university exam, in early June, i looked into the inns, in the days before the internet.

Bear in mind, i did not need to join an inn to enrol at the inns of court school of law, which i had an offer from, but i had obviously not yet even got the degree which the icsl required.

I would have been too early for pupillage applications at the time i was looking at the inns too.

My reaction upon seeing that there were scholarships available and that deadlines had already passed, in early june was – how come my uni, the icsl, my lecturers and tutors had not told us of this nugget of information # particularly when# everyone knew that you applied to solicitors firms after your second year exams ?! We barristers could have joined the inns at that stage too.

I felt that i had only chanced on it because i was a swot. I was only a swot because i realised that if you were not a succesful swot, you were sunk in this law caper.

Looking at the detail at the time, Grays inn, and possibly some others, still had minor awards left with later deadlines and so i joined grays and applied.

I think that i was interviewed either the week before or very early in term 1 icsl, for a minor scholarship. I Would not be surprised if Mummery J, as head of panel, was also interviewing the major scholarships that week too, notwithstanding the earlier application deadline.

So, as this was more than 20 years ago, i am sceptical about the promises of equality alex reports and i suspect those on here criticising the apparent ignoramuses who did not know the scholarship race had already been run are phonies.
I was no ignoramus.
Brothers from another mother like them only knew because Dulwich college or similar had told them to join an inn sooner than you think necessary.

My school was one of those where you had to be sabotaged so that the expensive school pupils , like those at Dulwich, could represent everything at county level. i only awoke from my sabotage slumber by chance and recovered the frames i had unwittingly forfeited to the tune of a 3500 award towards the then 4000 fees.

Happily i noticed an essay competition advertised in grays inn library some months later where the deadline had not passed yet. I recall about 5 people got prizes for that, and i wondered if that might have been 100pc of those who submitted for it.

The bank whose cheque it was was Child & Co. Wow. More exclusive than Coutts 😁

So, there you go…check for minor scholarships and see if you can nick a couple of frames before the end of the session, now you have woken up…

(2)(6)

Anonymous

#humblebrag

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I suppose i would have needed to join an inn to go to the icsl, but i felt ahead of the game looking into it before i graduated.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

(Anon from 11:02 8 May) Alex, with the upmost respect, as to your suggestion our comments haven’t dealt with the main ‘thrust’ of your article: they have. BPTC and GDL scholarships are widely publicised by the Inns but is only found by putting in a modicum of effort.
I haven’t the foggiest about LPC funding or firm sponsorship, because I don’t follow any organisations that provide it. If, as your article suggests, that means it’s the firms’ fault for not making me aware of something I haven’t bothered to even look into, research, or consider then I am deeply concerned by your wider world view.
Scholarships are publicised. But why, in any event, would they advertise as widely as organisations boasting dozens of ten thousand pound salary training positions, when the Bar barely offers 2 Pupillages per chambers? Why recruit unsustainable amounts of wannabe barristers through spoon-feeding information rather than relying on the most basic (and seemingly effective) test of commitment and determination: the ability to research, or even bother to hop on Google for ten minutes?
To suggest scholarships should be as widely publicised as multi-million pound suit factories’ sponsorships ignores not only the existing plethora of sadly unsuccessful, but brilliant, candidates but further the influx of hopeless ‘chancers’ that would result by removing the requirement to actually research your career.
I am afraid I have to disagree with your article in its entirety, both in substance and principle.
I hope you take my advice and follow the Inns’ social media on all platforms, including their subsidiary accounts (e.g. the libraries) to keep up to date on scholarship deadlines and communicate the same to your readers.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

*utmost

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Alex happens to be correct on this, imo.

Whether he is a good legal journalist or not, he is one and has been since approx 2011. If he thinks there is barely a whisper, then , provided he is not lying, there is probably barely a whisper.

He has touched a nerve by calling it out and got the predictable high brass gnashing of teeth in response.

Unfortunately for the credibility of your gnashing, the bar have said to him that they are going to do more work with uni careers services about it. They could easily have gnashed their teeth at him as well, but they took a different line.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

Actually whether he’s a minimally competent journalist or someone who can’t do anything but parrot press releases is very relevant. That he’s been parroting them since 2011 isnt

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Ah, but even if he has just been parroting press releases for 8 years, there’s never been a word about scholarships in the notes to editors.

Think, if you want something to exist – like a scholarship system – but you want it be secret or selective rather than as public as the ucas system, how do you achieve that and prevent exposure ?

That is what the operating system clearly was.

If you get caught, deny it and attack the credibility of the catcher.

Depending on the importance of the thing, stop at that or escalate. Eg Facilitate a nervous breakdown, encourage suicide, consider criminal or tax related offences against the catcher to ensure prison or bankruptcy, smear to ruin family life or career, torture, or assassinate.

It is very exciting when a truthteller breaks through the line.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

What on Earth are you on about?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Out of pure curiosity, will you expect someone to issue a press release telling you how to find a court once you’re practicing? Or will you manage on your own by then?

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Or you could learn how to do a fucking Google search ahead of time

fucking mongs

(1)(1)

Andon

Alex – would you like one of the Benchers of your chosen to deliver your scholarship cheque personally on a silver platter? Or would a velvet cushion suffice?

I bet partners of MC firms would do that, but the Inns won’t, and so the Bar to Sols brain drain continues.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t think that’s why people are leaving (or never attempting to reach) the Bar. Of the people I have encountered over the years and reflecting on my own attempt, the two camps are;

a) I’m not the barrister ‘type’, or
b) Chasing pupillage is too difficult and/or risky.

(1)(0)

Andon

“The timing of last week’s GDL scholarship was also pretty horrible — right in the middle of law exam revision season. Why would you put a scholarship deadline then?”

I presume that was a rhetorical question, but I’ll bite nonetheless. Have you considered that perhaps the process is deliberately not made easy because the ball ache of it all is in fact part of the filtering exercise and in some ways, a simulation of life at the Bar, where one’s diary is full of similar clashes which need to be negotiated?

“Then there is the fact that the scholarships are not exactly straightforward to understand”

Hmmm. A bit like law then. If someone isn’t capable of getting to the bottom of a fairly simple set of questions (“ie: which Inn offers money, how much, and how does one get it?” then, again, the Bar might not be for them.

“And some students without family connections who really want to become a barrister obviously do go to this trouble. But most just go and do magic circle training contracts instead.”

Good. They obviously didn’t want to be a barrister badly enough and in any case, if they were incapable of looking stuff up, then the Bar was probably not for them anyway as there is a fair bit of that when one gets into practice yannoe. If candidates need to be spoon-fed everything then the sols’ profession was probably better suited to them tbh. 😉

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake – you are merely one amongst literally thousands of very clever, very capable and very driven people vying for a spot in one of the most desirable professions, and so every aspect of the entry process is, in a way, an aptitude test.

(2)(1)

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