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Surviving the BPTC – The Inns, Dining and Applying for Call Night

Surviving the BPTC – The Inns, Dining and Applying for Call Night

Welcome back after the Christmas break – we hope it was a pleasant and relaxing one! To ease you back into the pain of studying, we have decided to take a look at the more fun side of the BPTC – the Inns of Court.

You will all have joined your Inn at least several months ahead of your BPTC year, and so will probably be well versed in the norms and procedures, however, this piece is mainly aimed at reminding you of the requirement that you undertake twelve qualifying sessions before your Call ceremony. (Well, okay, eleven, as the Call ceremony itself counts as the twelfth.)

As you are all probably being advised by your Inns, booking for Call ceremonies takes place well in advance of the event itself. As a result, you need to have a plan in place regarding your Qualifying Sessions. Many people will decide that they do not want to get Called in the Summer following the completion of their BPTC – this is absolutely fine, and gives you more time to undertake your Qualifying Sessions. However, if you do plan to attend the Summer Call ceremonies, it is very easy to forget about racking up your twelve sessions between exams! Be careful to avoid the financially draining situation of having to sit many sessions in the same few weeks, and get planning ahead.

Going back to the subject of when you decide to be Called – some people will say it makes no difference, and some will say it does. On the one hand, some parts of the Bar specify your seniority strictly down to the month you were called (not just the year). But some would say that leaving it as late as possible is more beneficial, as your five-years-to-secure-pupillage-deadline does not start ticking away until you are Called. Whatever you decide, make sure you have a plan.

It is also worth noting, for those of you lucky enough to have pupillage secured for September 2013, that you do not need to be Called before you begin your pupillage – you can complete the first six months of pupillage without having been Called. However, you do need to be Called before you can begin your second six months, as this is when you begin to get hands-on advocacy experience.

…are they an outdated excuse for an expensive (especially if you’re an out of London student) dinner, or potentially useful?

Although the Inns employ a variety of different ways to secure your Qualifying Sessions nowadays, the one that we most enjoyed were the classic Dining sessions. Opinions of these dining evenings vary – are they an outdated excuse for an expensive (especially if you’re an out of London student) dinner, or potentially useful? We think it depends on how you approach them. Helen is a member of Lincoln’s Inn, and Emily of Inner Temple, so we have experience of two of the four Inns of Court (the others being Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn).

Yes, you can just turn up (once you’ve booked and paid of course!), eat what is almost always stunning food, drink really quite good wine and go home, or you can try to make something more out of it.

We know that pre-dinner revision may not sound the greatest way to have fun, but making sure you are up to speed on recent developments can often turn a quiet night into a really interesting one. Planning law, for example, is not a speciality of Helen’s, but a quick read of the law reports in The Times on the way to one dining session meant that she knew at least the gist of a somewhat odd case. She couldn’t tell you about it now, but it meant that she spent most of the evening debating both sides of it with a judge who used to specialise in planning. In contrast, several of her friends spent the evening pushing small pieces of food around their plates having found no common ground with their dinner partners… we know which table Helen preferred to be on.

On a similar note, I know a couple of people found the formal dining to be really quite stressful, as this was the first time they had eaten in a formal environment… and had promptly found themselves sitting next to a High Court judge. The first point to make is that the judges rarely, if ever, bite over dinner (no pun intended). Almost all the members who turn up to dining events do so because they want to talk to you, to encourage you and often to give you a helping hand in some small way. Otherwise, let’s be honest, they would go to the events with fewer students!

Second, the silverware isn’t as important as it sometimes looks. As a rough guide, start at the outside and work in. Failing that, wait for someone more senior to start and copy them. At Lincoln’s Inn, for example, they normally waited until everyone has been served and the top table have started eating, so you have a good excuse to hang back if you’re unsure. If the worst comes to the worst, you can always ask. We have never yet seen someone belittled for not knowing a fish knife from their main knife, and indeed Helen ended up eating the vegetarian ‘fish’ course with a fish knife purely because that was the only one laid out for her. So do not worry too much.

…the silverware isn’t as important as it sometimes looks…We have never yet seen someone belittled for not knowing a fish knife from their main knife…

The then-Under-Treasurer for Lincoln’s Inn frequently made the point that our Inn was now our professional home. At the time, with the pressure of lessons and exams looming, that seemed like a far-flung idea, but now having been Called, he’s right. Even having moved hundreds of miles to work in a city where she knows no one, Helen knows that she can go and dine at the Inn whenever she wants and almost guarantee a really interesting evening. The same applies for Emily, who, by a stroke of luck, now works about a two-minute walk from Inner Temple, and is always glad to return to Inner Temple when the opportunity arises (especially for the amazing food!)

Don’t forget, those twelve Qualifying Sessions that you need to collect are not just another hoop to jump – they really are the beginning of a career. If you put a little into them, make the effort to be sociable, and find out about the people sitting around you, who knows where it could lead…

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