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The Path to a Scholarship at the Bar

The Path to a Scholarship at the Bar

Choosing an Inn

Never mind the application itself; first you must choose an Inn. It is worth noting here that the process seems daunting, but it is designed so that it can be approached in chunks. That in itself is a helpful factor.

I was in the same position around this time two years ago. I got online and planned to research all of the Inns of Court. I had already done background reading and decided it would be between Lincoln’s and Grays Inn, the reason for this was because Middle and Inner Temple Inn interview every applicant. Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn interviewed on merit alone. This appealed to me as more of a challenge and an incentive to work harder, plus I liked the idea of a smaller Inn. Eventually, I chose Lincoln’s Inn as it’s not the smallest Inn (as Gray’s Inn is) and I just had a gut instinct that it was the correct choice.

The application form

The next task was to set about filling out the application for a scholarship and also for membership of the Inn. It is not a prerequisite that you become a member before applying for a scholarship. You can only apply to one Inn per year for a scholarship, to avoid the inevitable spread betting that would otherwise ensue! So, for that reason, you may choose to hedge your bets or you may choose to commit to one Inn alone permanently, regardless of the outcome of your scholarship application.

The application itself is not too taxing. After all, you’re talking about yourself and I’m presuming you want a scholarship badly enough to put some time and care into it.  You will be asked to specify which awards you are applying for. Lincoln’s Inn has an entrance award, CPE awards, major BPTC awards and the Tancred studentships. Research this on the website before wildly ticking away. In fact, you should have already trawled through the website for the Inn before even printing off the form.

…as exciting as a Freshers Bar Crawl may have been to you, I don’t think that the Inns will appreciate its gravitas.

You will then fill in all of your basic information: education, grades thus far and more importantly, achievements and interests throughout your academic career. Now, being a council representative at school might not seem like great shakes to you ten years on, but do not underestimate what it demonstrates about your character. I evidenced many interests from as far back as 1995 (yes, I am that old) and it didn’t do me any harm. At school I fund-raised, entered public speaking competitions and was a form rep and council rep. I also mentored and assisted in the classroom. There is no harm in showing you had the ‘extra something’ very early on.

You will also be asked about your extra-curricular activities at university; take note, as exciting as a Freshers Bar Crawl may have been to you, I don’t think that the Inns will appreciate its gravitas. If you haven’t mooted, joined any societies or helped out on open days, then you had better make a start or else you’re going to struggle. You will be up against some seriously stiff competition. That’s not to put anyone off — but if you want to be a lawyer, you need to start being proactive and seriously honest about how tenable you’re making your position. However, I am assuming that, of course, you have plenty of mooting and society experience behind you to write about in any case. This is what that panel want to see.

Lastly, I was asked about ‘any other’ occupations, training and experiences. I was a mature student so I had plenty to draw on including a wide range of experience in different industries giving me transferable skills and some weird and wonderful placements (including a mortuary). You will also be asked specifically about your intentions towards the Bar (a fairly easy question to answer, one should hope!), court visits, mooting and legal work experience. I thought I would come unstuck here as I had not managed to secure a mini pupillage, but I was still trying actively. It is important to note here — do not lie or embellish the truth. You’ll see why when I talk of the interview.

You finally get a shot at talking about ‘other matters’. I wrote about the fact that I studied as a lone parent and had a job in order to show I had grit and determination. That’s the point with this application — don’t stress on what you lack that you cannot change at this point. Focus on what you can offer that demonstrates that you are worth chancing a good few grand on!

You will be then asked for financial information such as estimated living expenses and income during the BPTC. You must also source two references. Then you sign your life away, answer the equal opportunities questions and hold your breath. Don’t be late sending off your application like I was, although I had a very legitimate reason.

Did I get an interview?

The wait for the results is excruciating. At this point I will warn you — just because you have been given a date for an answer, it does not necessarily follow that this will be D-day. I waited two agonising weeks past the due date for results of the applications (the same happened for interview results too!). I was delighted to be offered an interview. This was slightly soured when speaking to friends who hadn’t as  I knew how much it meant and how they must have felt. I was also petrified. My interview time was set for Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 5.20pm. On the day I made my way to London alone, hours early on the coach, which was a good job because finding the special entrance that Lincoln’s Inn specify you use was no mean feat. (For the record, hopeful Lincoln’s Inn-ers: if you are lost, head for Ede & Ravenscroft — they are most helpful and it isn’t too far from there.)

What if they asked me about a new case from yesterday I hadn’t heard of?

Waiting for the interview was equally painful. After sweating blood and tears in a coffee shop over the road I headed towards the Inn like an inmate going to her death… as I saw many others do too! I introduced myself and sat with a group of equally nervous students. Being called downstairs to await my place in the interview rooms I panicked — had I read the ten newspapers I had bought enough times? What if they asked me about a new case from yesterday I hadn’t heard of?

I needn’t have worried. The panel of four Inn members were not half as scary as I imagined despite having absolutely no expressions, ensuring I couldn’t read anything from their faces. As for what I was asked about — it was all based on my application. What was the opposing team’s argument in the moots I done? Would you have argued that? Why I hadn’t secured mini-pupillage?  By this time I had secured one and I pointed this out, so they then asked me questions about cases I had worked on.

Interview panels will ask what you will do if you don’t get a scholarship. The answer is not ‘I can’t be a barrister’. The answer is ‘Well I have a plan B or I will find a plan B’. They want to see resourcefulness and determination and commitment, not giving up.

Then comes the trudge back home to await your fate. I truly thought I hadn’t made it. I hadn’t had a bad interview, but I didn’t feel that I had ‘sparkled’ as I’m repeatedly told one must.

Mission accomplished?

When I received my letter I was home alone. I opened it and my jaw nearly dropped. I was awarded a £6,000 Droop scholarship. Amazed wasn’t the word. I did what everyone does and put it on Facebook, naturally and then I called my mum!

The anti-climax that followed was formally joining the Inn — not as exciting having to hand over £100 after having to fork out a fortune to the College of Law to secure a place so I could even apply for a scholarship. But, needs must.

The application process for a scholarship isn’t as daunting as you think. Most importantly, you need self-belief and nerves of steel. One final tip: search for the Inns of Court Scholarship Tips group on Facebook. It’s full of accounts from those who have been there and scraped a victory. And lastly, good luck. If I can pull it off, so can you!

Siobhan Freeman graduated from Birmingham City University with an Upper Second Class Honours degree and is a Droop Scholar from Lincoln’s Inn. She is a mother who enjoys spending time with her family, and is enjoying maternity leave before resuming the hunt for a Training Contract and engaging in lively debates as a Devil’s Advocate.

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