Friday, 5 August 2011

Why Should You Join one of The Inns of Court?

An interesting question was posted on which we have used as inspiration for today's post!
"Does anyone have any advice about which Inn of Court they would suggest to join and why"
We felt that this warranted a lengthier response, as anyone wishing to train for the Bar must join one of the four Inns of Court as they alone have the power to call a student to the Bar.

They are Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn.
We asked Matthew Mason, In-house Counsel at MTA Solicitors LLP, for a little more insight in to the common considerations when making this important decision and the history behind this tradition.

The Inns are principally non-academic societies which provide collegiate and educational activities and support for barristers and student barristers. They all provide the use of a library, lunching and dining facilities, common rooms and gardens. They also provide a number of grants and scholarships for the various stages on the way to becoming a barrister. As well as awards and scholarships, the Inns are able to offer advice to their student members, for example, assistance with completing CVs and application forms for the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and for pupillage. Each Inn also runs advocacy training courses for their pupils. These vary in format and length and combine advocacy training with lecturers on particular areas of law or forensic skills.

Only those called to the Bar are able to exercise rights of audience in the superior courts of England and Wales as barristers. Students are required to complete twelve qualifying units and complete the BPTC in order to be called to the Bar. The qualifying units are educational and collegiate activities arranged by or on behalf of the Inn(s) for the purpose of preparing junior barristers for practice. These sessions used to be known as ‘dining sessions’, traditionally focused on dining with senior practitioners, which also provided networking opportunities and sharing of best practice. It is more common now for these sessions to have relevant talks and training workshops.

Admission to an Inn is required before registration on the BPTC although many undergraduates join before this stage in order to participate in activities, use the library, or start their qualifying sessions. Students must join an Inn by 31st May of they year before their BPTC is due to commence. 

A student’s choice of Inn does not affect the area of law in which they wish to practice of their choice of pupillage or tenancy. It is usually a matter of personal choice. The Bar Standards Boards recommends visiting the Inns and talking to currents members and to the student officers to help make your decision on which Inn to join. The internet is also a useful starting point with each Inn having its own website.

Once you are called to the Bar by one Inn you are free to use the services of other Inns including the libraries. If you feel the need you can take an addendum membership of a second Inn for a nominal fee. This facility is often used so the member can take up Head of Chambers within an Inn or get married in a specific Inn’s church.

Common considerations on which Inn to join are: scholarships and costs; size; facilities; the qualifying sessions; student associations; history and famous members.

Scholarships & Costs

The Inns all offer differing levels of scholarships awarded on different criteria with differing application deadlines. Lincoln’s Inn has the largest available fund for scholarships on a gross basis but has the lowest per person spend. Conversely Gray’s Inn has the smallest fund but the highest per person spend.

All the Inns also vary slightly on the costs you will incur. Middle Temple offer free dining for those on circuit at regional BPTC providers while Gray’s Inn offer Grand Night free to students. Lincoln’s offer a scholarship funding for their dining which is applied for during the BPTC year. Middle Temple also offers subsidised student accommodation in Clapham. These factors should be carefully weighed up (and your own CV compared to the published scholarship criterion to see what you are likely to get) to work out which Inn is most advantageous.


Size is a major factor with Gray’s Inn being the smallest at around 200 ‘in London’ students, Inner and Middle Temple at 400 or so, and Lincoln’s Inn at 700. Some prefer the more familial ethos of Gray’s Inn while others love the crowds, and some will opt for the compromise. You can visit all the Inns so that you can find out for yourself which you like the feel of best. Weekday lunch is served in all four halls.


Middle and Inner Temple share the Temple Church while Lincoln’s Inn has a beautiful library and Gray’s Inn has the gardens, known as ‘The Walks’ which were laid down by Sir Francis Bacon. Whilst most Inn facilities can be used interchangeably post being called, while you are a student you can only use your own library plus Inner and Middle Temple libraries which are open to all. Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn restrict their library facilities to their own students because of the proximity to City Law School and BPP which would otherwise flood the libraries with students rendering them unavailable for practitioners. On the point of location Gray’s Inn is farthest north by High Holborn, Lincoln’s is south of High Holborn between there and
Chancery Lane, and the Temples are south of Fleet Street. All are within ten to fifteen minutes' walk of the others.

Qualifying Sessions

These also vary with Gray’s Inn being the only Inn to use formal dining toasts in hall (which involves toasting the messes above and below in order to learn each other’s names). Middle is known for raucous drinking of port at every student qualifying session as well as being infamous for its student organised formal parties (run by the Middle Temple Student Association). Inner is well known for having some of the best food available even going so far as to serve Haggis on Burns Night while Lincoln’s Inn has a more formal sober affair within dining condensed into shorter blocks of dining rather than spread out.

Student Associations

These are present at all four Inns – Lincoln’s Inn Student Committee, Inner Temple Student Association, Middle Temple Student Association and the Association of Gray’s Inn Students. There can be no definitive comparison as the committees change very year (by election at every Inn with the exception of bench appointment at Lincoln’s Inn. MTSA is renowned for throwing the best formal parties while ITSA is particularly strong on debating. AGIS publishes its own law journal and co-ordinates the Inn’s cricket and rugby teams as well as running negotiation training and mock arbitration unique to its event calendar. Lincoln’s Inn is a little more shrouded in mystery as the only publicity done by their student committee is internal.

History and Famous Members

By tradition none of the Inns claim a specific foundation date but all are steeped in history. Middle Temple has a bench table from the Golden Hind, while Grays Inn features a wooden screen made from a sunken Armada ship. Middle Temple is the only Inn which requires students to wear a wig on call night.

Famous members of the Inn’s include:

Lincoln’s Inn – Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, Lord Denning, Sir Thomas More, the Duke of Kent, Queen Mary, Cherie Booth, Mohammed Hidayatullah, Lord Halisham of Marylebone, John Henry Newman

Inner Temple – Sir Edward Coke, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss, Tunku Abdul Rahman (the first Prime Minister of India), Jawaharlal Nehru (the first Prime Minister of Malaysia), Ghandi, John Maynard Keynes, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Mortimer

Middle Temple – David Cameron, Prince William, Sir John Major, Kier Starmer (Director of Public Prosecutions), Patricia Scotland (Attorney General for England and Wales)

Gray’s Inn – Sir Francis Bacon, the Prince of Wales, Winstone Churchill, Baroun Slynn, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Hoffmann, five Archbishops of Canterbury, John Lee, John Wynne and Huw Thomas

Parts of this work have been reproduced from guidance published by the Bar Standards Board and

Matthew Mason completed a law degree at the University of Westminster followed by the Bar Vocational Course at the College of Law in London. Last year he completed a master's degree in International Legal Practice with the International Bar Association and joined MTA Solicitors LLP as an In-House Counsel in January 2011.

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