Everything You Need to Know About The Inns of Court

January 3, 2019 | Georgina Varley

Each Inn of Court has a long, exciting history with its own distinctive traditions. Here’s all you need to know about the Inns before you take your BPTC.

Farrar's Building Inner Temple

What are the four Inns of Court?

Wandering around Holborn or Temple, you might have unexpectedly come across a gatehouse leading to a secluded courtyard. Made up of Georgian, Recency, Baroque, and Gothic buildings, with peaceful formal gardens in the grounds, these charming spaces feel slightly out of place amid the hustle and bustle of modern-day London. These are The Inns of Court and, although they seem to be from a bygone era, they still play a crucial role in the training of barristers in the UK.

The Inns are the only institutions in the country with the power to call someone to the Bar. As a trainee, you must pay around £100 to join an Inn in the lead up to starting your BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course) and complete 12 qualifying sessions with the establishment before being summoned. These sessions can be social occasions, like formal dinners, music evenings, and boat parties, or educational events, such as lectures, moot debates, and training weekends. After passing the BPTC, attending the qualifying sessions, and being called to the Bar, you must then complete pupillage, a form of apprenticeship, and obtain a practising certificate.

The road to becoming a qualified barrister is long and not without its challenges. The importance of the Inns in helping students reach this milestone must not be underestimated. They provide you with the schooling, networking skills, and careers advice needed to succeed in the sector. Undeniably, however, the best thing about The Inns of Court is that they provide extensive financial help, up to £5,000,000 per year, to those who apply for and win a scholarship. These are awarded based on the competence of a student’s written application and their performance during a challenging interview with a panel of senior barristers, some of whom are judges. In many cases, financial background is taken into account when awarding monetary aid. Interviewers are looking for determination, intellectual ability, on-the-spot presentation skills, and impressive advocacy abilities when choosing successful candidates.

You can only apply to one Inn at a time for law school scholarships. If rejected, you may choose to join that institution anyway, as many do, or wait for the next round and try again. The top scholarships are the prestigious named awards worth around £15,000. Considering that the BPTC costs more than £18,000 to undertake, an Inn of Court scholarship is something that every trainee should be researching. They are also an unofficial signpost for pupillage decisions as many chambers favour those who carry an endorsement from their Inn.

Lady Justice

Which Inn of Court should I choose?

There are four Inns of Court in London located in the heart of the legal district, in walking distance from the Royal Courts of Justice and the Old Bailey. They are: Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, and Inner Temple. Membership is for life, so it is worth weighing up the pros and cons of each establishment before applying to one of them.

The best way to get a feel for these honourable societies and their rich histories is to phone up and ask for a tour of the grounds. Alternatively, you can take an Inns of Court Tour that covers a large section of legal London. Why not try London Walks’ Legal & Illegal London tour?

Here’s everything you need to know about the four Inns of Court.

Gray’s Inn

Emblem: A golden griffin on a black field.

Estimated scholarship fund: £800,000 

Gray's Inn

Photo credit: Chambers Student

Gray’s is the smallest of all the Inns and one of the most peaceful. The Inn’s early 17th century garden, known as The Walks, is one of the largest privately-owned outdoor spaces in London. Open to the public for a select period of the day, you will often see workers lounging on the grass in their lunch breaks. There’s also the annual croquet tournament and a pop-summer marquee in The Walks. Despite suffering damage during the Second World War, the Inn’s ancient Hall and Chapel are still intact; the rest of the buildings are made of 1950s red-brick.

Scholarships at Gray’s Inn, like Lincoln’s Inn, go to students with top academics. It is, therefore, worth considering Inner or Middle Temple if you achieved a 2:1 at university. Gray’s and Lincoln's Inn also do not interview all candidates, whereas the other two Inns of Court try to. Whilst Gray’s Inn is certainly a challenge to get in to, it could be worth it as some of the society’s scholarships include rent free flats in the centre of town.

Famous members of Gray’s Inn include:

  • Sir Frances Bacon (Philosopher and statesman)
  • Thomas Cromwell (Chief Minister to King Henry VIII)
  • Baroness Hale (President of the UK’s Supreme Court)
  • Dame Rose Heilbron (First female QC)

Interesting facts:

  • The first performance of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors took place at Gray’s Inn.
  • Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt first met at a dinner in Gray’s Inn Hall.
  • Gray’s Inn members write and perform a cross between a pantomime and a cabaret show every Christmas.

Lincoln’s Inn

Emblem: Azure millrinds with a purple rampant lion on a canton.

Estimated scholarship fund: £1,534,000

Lincoln's Inn

Photo credit: Chambers Student

Lincoln’s Inn is the biggest of the four Inns with around 21,000 members. Over a third of the current membership comes from outside of the EU. Many of these trainees are from Pakistan or Bangladesh as Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, trained as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn and his legacy continues to inspire many.

Like Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn awards scholarships only on merit and can choose not to respond to your application. The Inn prides itself on its debating ability and holds four yearly events in addition to an internal competition in the spring. There is also the Gluckstein Prize contest, an advocacy competition that asks participants to prepare a mixture of criminal, civil, and family legal material. One member told Chambers Student that it was “The most brutal thing I've ever done! It's basically a panel of five firing questions at you while you struggle to think on your feet and fire back.”

At Lincoln’s Inn you can enjoy an annual garden party, a triple-floored library, and regular lunchtime concerts in the Chapel. There’s also a huge outdoor space called Lincoln’s Inn Fields that dwarves The Walks. On Chancery Lane, a 16th century gatehouse welcomes you to the grounds and the buildings are built in a mixture of styles, Georgian, Gothic and Baroque are just a handful.

Famous members of Lincoln’s Inn include:

  • Sir Thomas More (Lawyer, writer, and statesman)
  • John Donne (Poet)
  • Lord Hailsham (Conservative politician)
  • Wilkie Collins (Writer)
  • 16 British Prime Ministers including William Pitt, Spencer Perceval, Herbert Asquith, and Margaret Thatcher.

Interesting facts:

  • Lincoln’s Inn claims to be the only place where the monarch can be toasted sitting down. When King Charles II was entertained at the Inn, the members were so drunk by the end of the night that he gave his permission for everyone to remain seated during the royal toast.
  • In days where there was awful poverty, many babies were left at the Inn as the parents knew they would be well-looked after. These children were often given the name Lincoln.
  • Lincoln’s Inn is often used as a filming location. It has been featured in both Downton Abbey and Wonder Woman.

Inn of Court Map Lincoln's Inn Gray's Inn

An Inns of Court map for Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn.

Inner Temple

Emblem: A leaping silver Pegasus on an azure background.

Estimated scholarship fund: £1,655,625

Temple Church

Inner Temple occupies the eastern half of an area called Temple that was chosen by the Knights Templar as their London headquarters in the late 12th century. The round church that they built there, modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, forms part of today’s Temple Church. The church stands opposite the modern Hall, which was built after the original was destroyed during the Second World War. Inner Temple’s swanky Pegasus Bar attracts members of the Inn and their guests, particularly in the summer when you can sit on the terrace.

Inner is the second largest of the Inns and, unlike Lincoln’s Inn, this establishment takes into account monetary need when choosing successful scholarship applicants. It is also worth mentioning the Pegasus Access and Support Scheme (PASS), which helps students from non-traditional backgrounds obtain mini-pupillage vacancies. Eligibility criteria includes being the first in your family to go to university, being the recipient of free school meals, and having parents who are receiving housing benefits. Find out more on the PASS website. Inner Temple proudly interviews all applicants.

Like Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple takes its debating very seriously. The Rawlinson Cup is a prestigious gong that can be won annually. A memorable debate was 2015’s discussion on the contemporary relevance of the Magna Carta in honour of its 800th anniversary.

Inner Temple Gardens

Famous members of Inner Temple include:

  • Doctor Ivy Williams (First woman to be called to the Bar)
  • Bram Stoker (Writer)
  • Mahatma Gandhi (Activist – father of India)

Interesting facts:

  • Inner Temple has been recognised for a number of female firsts. In addition to Doctor Ivy Williams, who was famously called to the Bar in 1922, there are three other renowned female legal minds who were members of the Inn: Elizabeth Lane, the first female High Court Judge, Elizabeth Butler Schloss, the first female Court of Appeal Judge, and Rosalyn Higgins, the first female judge elected to the International Court of Justice.
  • Gandhi served at 8 King’s Bench Walk while at Inner Temple. The chef at the Inner Temple dining room is reported to have designed a vegetarian menu especially for him.
  • Temple Church featured heavily in The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

Middle Temple

Emblem: The Lamb of God with a flag bearing Saint George’s Cross.

Estimated scholarship fund: £900,000

Middle Temple

       Photo credit: Middle Temple  

Overlooking the Thames on the western side of Temple, Middle Temple is a small Inn with Fountain Court at its centre where a street food market and Champagne bar often take place. Tucked away, this Inn is famously hard to find and has an ancient feel to it as Middle Temple Lane is still lit by gas lamps.

Middle Temple, like its neighbour Inner, awards scholarships based on merit as well as need and attempts to interview all applicants. The most prestigious award handed out is the Queen Mother Scholarship, presented as a mark of distinction to candidates who are deemed all-rounders. The honourable society’s Access to the Bar scheme provides two weeks of work experience funded by senior members of the Inn for undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds and is a good way to make yourself known to the Inn prior to applying for a Middle Temple scholarship.

Activities at the Inn include the annual Rosamund Smith mooting competition for student members of the society. This respected contest holds its initial heats in private, with the semi-final and final taking place in Middle Temple Hall. Four students are then sent to the USA to compete with law students from the University of North Carolina and Pepperdine University in Malibu.

Famous members of Middle Temple include:

  • Sir Walter Raleigh (Writer and explorer)
  • William Makepeace Thackeray (Writer)
  • Charles Dickens (Writer)
  • Barbara Calvert (First woman to head a chambers)
  • Helena Normanton (First woman admitted to an Inn)

Interesting facts:

  • Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night enjoyed its first performance at Middle Temple Inn during the Candlemas feast of 1602. Its 400th anniversary was celebrated in the Hall with a young Eddie Redmayne making his professional debut alongside seasoned Shakespearian actor Mark Rylance.
  • Middle Temple Garden has also been made famous by Shakespeare. Roses from the garden are picked by the Duke of York and Earl of Somerset in Henry VI Part I, marking the beginning of the power struggle that defined the Wars of the Roses.
  • Famously, Middle Temple library houses the Molyneux Globes, a unique pair of terrestrial and celestial globes made in 1592. They are the only ones in existence. Although the terrestrial globe was the world’s most geographically correct at the time, areas like Australia and New Zealand are missing as they were yet to be ‘discovered’.

Inns of Court Map Middle Temple and Inner Temple

An Inns of Court map for Inner Temple and Middle Temple.

So, taking everything from their impressive architecture, renowned former members, sponsorship funds, and pick of social activities into account, which of London's Inns of Court will you choose? 

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