As an aspiring barrister, you may have heard of the Four Inns of Court. These are prestigious legal societies providing support and opportunities to future barristers during their Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).

What Is An Inn Of Court?

The four Inns of Court are professional bodies that play a large role in the education and guidance of both aspiring and practising barristers while also playing host to a number of events that provide the opportunity to develop social networks within the profession. Alongside their more social element, the Inns of Court also support aspiring barristers with various scholarship prospects to fund their further study and serve as a place to work for members.

What Are The Four Inns Of Court?

The Inns of Court are composed of Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, and Inner Temple. All institutions are located near one another in central London, close to the Royal Courts of Justice.

Historical background

The Inns of Court in London are ancient and prestigious professional associations for barristers, which provide legal training and education, social and networking opportunities, and administrative services.

The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn is the oldest Inn of Court, dating back to the 14th century. It was established in 1422 and has been the home of many famous lawyers, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple was established in the 14th century as a barrister inn and is known for its impressive Tudor-style buildings, including the Temple Church, which was made famous in the book and movie “The Da Vinci Code.” The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple was established in the 16th century and is known for its connection to the royal family. Gray’s Inn was established in the 14th century and is known for its beautiful gardens and proximity to the British Museum.

The four Inns of Court historically oversaw the education and training of barristers with some Inns housing and training barristers from as early as 1320. While the formal education of barristers has shifted towards other providers, such as law schools, the Inns continue to play a role in both the educational and social lives of future and current barristers.

Famous Alumni

The Inns of Court have been home to many famous lawyers and judges, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf, and current Supreme Court Justice Lord Reed. Other notable alumni include author John Grisham and British actors Helena Bonham Carter and John Cleese.

Public Access

The Inns of Court are open to the public for guided tours and events, but access to the buildings and facilities is generally restricted to members and their guests.

The Inns don’t differ on what they offer either – all Inns have similar facilities, services and opportunities for aspiring and practicing barristers. Each Inn does however have its own personality and history and, as membership is for life, it is important to get to know each Inn to fully understand how they differ.

A closer look at the Inns

  • Lincoln’s Inn is the largest and oldest of the Inns, dating back to at least 1422. It offers student tours twice a week, where you can explore its historic buildings and ask questions. Despite stereotypes about the bar, many students from diverse backgrounds have excelled at Lincoln’s Inn, thanks to its educational and social opportunities.
  • Gray’s Inn, on the other hand, is the smallest of the Inns, but it prides itself on its close-knit community and supportive environment. Its buildings range from the 18th to the 21st century, and you can admire its impressive portraits in the grand hall. Gray’s Inn also offers scholarship opportunities and educational experiences to prospective members.
  • Inner Temple, founded in the 14th century, has a progressive and diverse membership, and it promotes mooting, debating, and drama societies for students. It also undertakes Project Pegasus, which creates modern and flexible spaces for training programs while maintaining the heritage of the building. If you prefer a modern study environment, the Inner Temple might be the Inn for you.
  • Middle Temple, which is over 400 years old, offers advocacy training, sponsorship schemes, marshalling placements, mooting opportunities, and qualifying sessions. It’s known for being welcoming and supportive, providing around £1 million per year in support to its students and junior members. You can attend events, lectures, and guidance sessions, although most events are for student members only.

Why Do You Need To Join An Inn Of Court?

Being the only institutions with the power to call individuals to the Bar, joining an Inn of Court is a necessary step for any aspiring barristers. Students are required to join an Inn before they commence their vocational training (Bar Professional Course) and must complete 12 qualifying sessions with the establishment before they can be summoned.

How do I apply to an Inn of Court?

The application process for the Inns of Court is straightforward. First, you need to decide which Inn to apply to, based on factors such as location, size, and reputation. Then, you will need to fill out an application form and provide the necessary documents, including academic transcripts and a personal statement. You may also be required to attend an interview, which will assess your suitability for the Inn and the legal profession in general. It’s worth noting that competition for places is fierce, so it’s important to ensure your application is as strong as possible, highlighting any relevant experience or achievements you may have.

Keep in mind that you have to apply before May 31st of the year you will undertake the BPTC, so don’t delay your decision too long.

What Are The Benefits Of Joining An Inn Of Court?

It is not only the requirement of membership to an Inn for barristers that makes joining a valuable experience – the Inns are designed to support the education of barristers and in doing so offer various learning opportunities for their members including lectures, mooting sessions, training weekends and judge marshalling schemes. The Inns also offer various social events, such as formals and music evenings, which offer current members the opportunity to network with other aspiring and practicing barristers. Therfore, becoming a member of an Inn of Court is just the beginning of the journey to becoming a barrister.

Membership of an Inn of Court also opens access to their facilities, including gardens, libraries, dining facilities and study locations. Some Inns also continue to offer practicing barristers’ professional accommodation within their grounds.

Inns of Court also offer £5.6 million in scholarships between them which is reserved for GDL and Bar Course students as well as pupil barristers and while being a member of an Inn isn’t an entry requirement for the scholarship applications, becoming a member and utilising the services may support applicant’s success.

How Do You Choose An Inn Of Court?

Choosing an Inn of Court can be a very daunting decision – choosing where to place a lifetime membership is not a small enterprise. While choosing an Inn is often a very personal decision, there are certain factors that can help you determine which Inn is best suited to you and your professional aspirations, including the Inn’s size and it’s current membership cohort.

Find out more about choosing an Inn of court to join


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