The Inns of court: What are they and why are they important?

October 5, 2021

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3 min read

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What are the Inns of Court?

Possessing deep historical importance within the legal profession, the collective term “Inns of Court” encompasses four legal societies, or “Inns”, which play a key role in the process of qualifying as a barrister. Their most notable function is that they have the sole, exclusive right of admitting qualified students to the English Bar (i.e. the formal recognition of barristers completing their vocational training). Other functions include teaching, offering guidance and providing scholarships to prospective barristers.

As noted, there are four Inns of Court: Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple. Despite their notable differences regarding culture, available sponsorship money, activities on offer and size, each Inn ultimately offers the same core services and protections, mentioned above. Students must join one of these four Inns before starting the BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course) and membership is for life.

Why are the Inns of Court important?

Each Inn boasts a variety of facilities, helping barristers with their career aspirations in not only vocational, academic or monetary senses, but also in social and recreational senses. Beyond their key function of calling students to the Bar, here are some of the many reasons that the Inns of Court are vital in the careers and livelihoods of qualifying barristers:

Provision of “qualifying sessions”

“Qualifying sessions” are events and activities completed alongside a student’s vocational training, intending to supplement this. Students must complete ten of these sessions, often with more senior members. While some sessions have an educational focus, others aim to help students with the more social and customary aspects of the Bar. Common activities include advocacy training, mooting, debating, seminars, dinners and weekend conferences. For example, Middle Temple has “All Inn” dinners where benchers (senior members of the Inn) eat among the students. 

Mentoring and marshalling schemes

Students can benefit from mentoring by practitioners in their desired field, as well as marshalling schemes which allow them to observe cases and shadow a judge for a week. 

Monetary support

Inns can offer generous financial support in the form of scholarships to students, helping students with expenses such as the BPTC. The collective scholarship pot for the four Inns is around £5.6 million and varying amounts are granted to scholars based on need or merit. 

They also provide financial support for practicing barristers after completing their BPTC and being called to the Bar. 

Social and competitive events

Inns can provide budding barristers with an opportunity to mix with like-minded individuals, facilitating the exchange of knowledge and experiences. Such an environment, comprised of a mix of student and more senior members, also provides great networking opportunities for students that can help with a student’s career prospects.

The Inns boast a range of societies to cater to many tastes, including music, drama and mooting, providing students with a great place to relax and socialise with similar people. 

Provide facilities for prospective barristers

Inns can, among other things, provide students with libraries, professional accommodation and dining facilities.

Choosing an Inn

Although all four Inns are similar in their core functions, each has its own flavour and atmosphere. In order to best appreciate these nuances in flavour to help with the process of choosing an Inn to belong to, it is highly recommended that prospective students conduct extensive research into each Inn and, most importantly, that they visit the Inns for themselves, easily done by booking a tour or an event.

Which Inn a student should choose is a highly subjective question. Students may be attracted by the large scholarship pot at Inner Temple, the large size of Lincoln’s Inn (or conversely the fact Gray’s Inn is on the smaller side and hence more of a close-knit community) or the traditional aspects of Middle Temple. These, and a plethora of other factors, should be considered before choosing an Inn that is best suited to each student.

Report written by Lauren Ainscough

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