With many Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) providers now asking for up to £17,350 for training the lawyers of tomorrow, Inns scholarships are becoming a necessity for barrister hopefuls. This is not to suggest that without a scholarship you can’t make it at the bar, many people without them do. However, obtaining a scholarship can reduce the financial pressure on either our future selves drowning in huge loan repayments, or our parents crippling their finances in blind faith of our success.
Firstly, you need to choose the Inn to which you’ll apply for a scholarship. This is quite difficult if you don’t actually physically visit the Inns to see which one you like. They are all huge support bases for aspiring barristers, but they have subtle differences that you can only really gauge by visiting them.
My reason for choosing Middle Temple was simple. Within five hours on the open day I was provided with quality information and more guidance regarding my future career than I had ever been given in my life. I spoke to John Cooper QC, who gave me advice ranging from how to make the most of my upcoming year abroad, to how to shine on mini-pupillage applications. Specifically, we discussed how to use my year abroad to demonstrate motivation to succeed, which subsequently is a scholarship selection criterion. Therefore the best way to assess the Inns is by speaking to the barristers that are members themselves.
More importantly, speak to the student members at the Inns’ open days. The student member I spoke to at Middle Temple had recently returned from the Inn’s advocacy weekend at Cumberland Lodge. She explained how small group advocacy sessions over the weekend had accelerated her performance and confidence in advocacy classes on the BPTC. It was clear from her passion that she felt valued by the Inn and being a member had contributed to her success in obtaining pupillage.
As someone who had managed to make a solid group of solicitor only friends at university, I had no peers going to the bar. Visiting Middle Temple made me feel like everyone around me at the Inn understood the hurdles awaiting me and, even better, wanted to help me jump them.
This is what you are looking for on the open days. You should choose your Inn based on where you feel supported, because to begin with, this is what they are for!
The scholarship application process opens early in the academic year, so you need to act promptly. The deadline for applications is 1 November for all of the Inns in 2013 and it is worth noting that Middle Temple require a hard copy. This means that your personal deadline for posting the application needs to be in October (it sounds obvious, but you don’t want to get caught out by timing). The application form for Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn is your one chance as they do not interview every candidate. Middle Temple and Inner Temple do interview everyone, however, the application is your first impression. Thus, for any application form, you need to fit yourself into the criteria and take your time to do it well.
Don’t underestimate what may seem to you to be small achievements. If you are struggling, ask others how they think you fit the criteria. I found that completing the form over a period of a few days gave me time to have conversations with friends and family that reminded me of experiences I had forgotten about. Additionally, returning to the form with a fresh pair of eyes each day ensures that you think about the questions properly and don’t rush through with half-hearted answers.
After you have applied it is important to ensure the Inn has an up-to-date email address for you at all times. This is particularly relevant with Middle Temple because after the BPTC application process in February, you are required to confirm that you still wish for your application to be considered. It is extremely important that you confirm this, as your application will not be considered if they do not receive a response from you by a specified date.
You need to prepare for the interview as though it is an exam. For Middle Temple, there are four criteria: intellectual ability, motivation to succeed at the bar, potential as an advocate, and personal qualities. Many people had told me the style of questioning for scholarships was similar to pupillage interviews, so I used the Middle Temple Students Association ‘Example Pupillage Interview Questions’ to revise. These can be found at: http://middletemplestudents.com/example-pupillage-interview-questions/.
When you arrive at the Inn, needless to say, it is a good idea to be nice and friendly with everyone that you meet. Do remember that you are competing with those around you, so if someone emerges from the interview room warning that the panel are firing questions without blinking, don’t listen. I met a girl in the waiting room about to start with the same BPTC provider as me. We ran through the basics of why we wanted to be barristers and which areas of law interested us, which helped to calm the nerves and block out people’s post-interview trauma stories.
Interviews for Middle Temple are in April. Hopefully you will have some shiny new exam results to casually drop into your answers, furthering the intellectual ability demonstrated on your application form. To show your motivation, it is a good idea to ensure you are up to date with current affairs in your area of interest. Do not panic if you are asked about a case you haven’t read. The main thing to remember is to not try to blag it as the panel will see straight through you. I admitted I wasn’t familiar with the defence used, but said that if I was provided with a quick overview I would be more than happy to provide an opinion. This seemed to work and the panel were happy to prompt me. Never miss an opportunity to demonstrate those all-important quick thinking skills!
Personal qualities will naturally come across in the interview in the way you describe experiences and motivations. Every panel is different, so there isn’t a blanket rule about how to give a good impression; you need to read the situation. As a general rule, it is always a good idea to look at the person speaking to you and make eye contact when answering.
I inadvertently told my panel about how my friend and I had been torn apart by the judges in our first moot in Australia, which they found quite funny. Needless to say, I hastily followed this up with my recent successes in mooting and ways in which I had improved. They seemed interested in the amount of mooting I had taken on in the six months leading up to the interview and asked about experiences I mentioned. Thus, it is definitely worth using the period of time between submitting your application and the interview to build on parts of your form that you feel are weaker, regardless of which Inn you are interviewing with.
Finally, the panel will need an up-to-date copy of the financial break down you submitted with your application. The form might be exactly the same, in which case you will only spend a few minutes explaining how you plan to survive during the BPTC. If, like me, your parents are getting divorced and your new form has a question mark in every box, it could take a little more time. The panel interviewing me appreciated my attempt at making a plan amongst the chaos, and a couple of jokes about dividing up the Tesco vouchers went down quite well. This is not to suggest that applicants should enter the interview room armed with a comedy sketch about a deceased relative. The point is that staying practical when speaking about difficult situations is a vital skill for barrister hopefuls in any area of law, so, if necessary, this is a good time to practice.
Overall, remember to be smart and maintain a positive attitude. If you walk in and forget everything, a suit and a smile is a good place to start!