TO ACCOMPANY THE INNS OF COURT TOUR
This summary of Legal facts is intended to accompany the Inns of Court Tour, about which you can get full details here.
This is an ongoing project, which will be added to over the months ahead, so please keep checking back for updates.
Until the 13th century the main court in England was the curia regis - or the King's Court - which was established by the Normans in the aftermath of their 1066 invasion. The curia regis was made up of those advisers and courtiers who followed the king as he travelled around the country. The curia regis would later evolve into Parliament.
The first court to emerge with an individual identity was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Court of Exchequer, which decided on matters brought to the court by writs served by the King's secretary, the Lord Chancellor, and arising from the paying of taxes to the King.
This was followed by the Court of Common Pleas, which dealt with matters and disputes between subjects.
In 1215, Magna Carta allowed for this latter court to be held in a fixed place - namely Westminster Hall.
WHAT ARE THE INNS OF COURT?
From the 1300's lawyers, working in this and the King's Bench Court (the successor to the curia regis which was created in the late 12th to early 13th century) and the Exchequer Courts, which were also meeting in Westminster, began to settle close by and formed themselves into societies that, as well as teaching law, also offered accommodation, meals and entertainment - thus becoming the "Inns" of the Court.
These lawyers, who had the sole right of audience in the higher courts, became known as barristers.
Although there were initially more Inns of Court, the number was eventually whittled down to just the four that we have today - Lincoln's Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray's Inn.
HOW OLD ARE THEY?
As to the actual age of the Inns of Court, we cannot be exactly sure, as records are patchy.
Although there is a tradition that none of the Inns of Court claims to be any older than the others; Inner and Middle Temples are recorded as separate societies in a manuscript yearbook of 1388; there are records of Gray's Inn being on its present site as early as 1391; whereas Lincoln's Inn can boast the longest-running series of records of any of the four Inns of Court in the form of the Black Books, which offer a unique continuous history of the Inn back to 1422.
THE DIFFERENT INNS
A question I often get asked on the Inns of Court tour is:- is being a member of a particular inn more prestigious than being a member of another?
The simple answer to this question is no.
As to the type of person that is drawn to each of the individual Inns, well here's an old rhyme that dates from at least the 18th century, if not before, and which explains the membership of each Inn far better than I ever could:-
Inner for the rich
middle for the poor
lincoln's for the scholar
gray's for the bore.
THE LEVELS OF MEMBERSHIP
Each of the four Inns has three levels of membership - students, barristers, and Masters of the Bench or "benchers".
The Benchers are senior lawyers who form the governing body of an Inn; and the highest ranking Bencher is the Treasurer, who will hold office for one year. That is why many of the buildings have a T over their doorways followed by initials and a year. The T stands for Treasurer; the initials are the initials of the Treasurer in the year that building was built; and the year is the year in which it was built.
To be a Barrister you must first join to one of the Inns of Court, as they, and they alone, have the right of "Calling" barristers to the Bar.
WHY THE BAR?
In the Middle Ages the bar was, quite literally, a wooden barrier at the front of the courtroom that separated the public area of the court from the area reserved for the judges.
Only legally qualified individuals were allowed to address the judge from this bar, and Barristers - who enjoyed this right of advocacy - would sit or stand immediately behind it. They would face the judge, and they could use the bar as a table on which to rest their briefs.
Gradually, the judges began to delegate the qualification and admission of barristers to the Inns of Court; and, today, only the four Inns of Court have the right to "call barristers" to the bar.
WHAT IS A BARRISTER?
In short, a barrister is a specialist legal adviser and court room advocate.
Barristers, with their specialist knowledge - both in and out of court - are independent, objective and trained to advise clients on the strengths and weaknesses of a case.
There are approximately 15,500 practicing barristers, of whom, roughly, 35% are women.
Barristers are not allowed to form partnerships or companies, and, therefore, each barrister is regarded as a self-employed sole practitioner.
Although most barristers are self-employed, they work in groups in "sets" of "chambers", sharing premises and support services. Each barrister will contribute a portion of their earnings to the cost of running the chambers.
These chambers are administered by clerks who receive cases from solicitors on their employers behalf and then agree matters, such as fees, on behalf of the barrister' in their chambers. The clerks' then provide the case details to the barrister
A barrister wishing to join an existing chambers must first seek the approval of the exiting members and, if this is forthcoming, the applicant will be invited to join that set; this is known as obtaining tenancy.
Individual "sets" tend to specialise in one or two main fields of the law and they will look to build a solid reputation in that particular field in order to attract future work.
Barristers, being self-employed, do not receive a monthly salary, or sickness or holiday pay, and they are, therefore, dependent upon their own personal earnings for both their personal and professional financial obligations.
Some barristers, however, opt for the security of a salaried position and are employed by a company or a law firm - this group is known as the "employed Bar", to distinguish its practitioners from the "self-employed Bar".
Barristers refer to each other as "My Learned Friend" and refer to solicitors as "My Friend".
GOING TO A BARRISTER
In the past, a member of the public could not go directly to a barrister, but would have to go to a solicitor, who would then instruct the barrister on their behalf
However, following a change in the rules, set down by the Bar Council in July 2004, members of the public - as well as commercial and non-commercial organisations - can now instruct barristers directly within the framework of the Public Access Scheme; this change, it is claimed, can save up to 50% on legal costs in many cases.
However, before a barrister can undertake Public Access work, they must first complete a special course; and, at present, roughly one in 20 barristers has done so.
HOW DO YOU BECOME A BARRISTER?
There are three stages to becoming a barrister, the Academic stage, the Vocational stage and Pupillage.
- ACADEMIC STAGE For the academic stage you have two options. You can either study law as an undergraduate degree; or you can complete a non-law degree followed by the Graduate Diploma In Law (GDL)
Having completed the academic stage, students can then begin the second stage on the road to becoming a barrister.
However, before they can do so, they must join one of the four Inns of Court as a student member and undertake a number of "qualifying sessions".
Students must complete twelve of these "qualifying sessions", which used to, and still can, involve eating a dozen meals in the dining hall of the Inn.
As a result of this former need to consume food and alcohol, in order to eat you way into the profession, this culinary ritual was often refereed to as "Keeping Terms" or "Eating Dinners."
And, a huge amount of ritual and pageantry is on the menu for these sessions. You can read all about what's involved in a typical "session" on Lincoln's Inn's website's Dining Customs page.
I should also mention that there are now also lecture nights, voice training, presentational skills courses, advocacy training and residential weekends, which now count towards "qualifying sessions", so eating your way into the profession is not the be all and end all that it once was.
Dinners, however, are still important since they provide students with an opportunity to meet barristers and judges to learn more about the profession they wish to pursue. They're also great fun as well!
THE SECOND STAGE
Anyway, having joined one of the Inns of Court as a student, the prospective barrister can then embark upon the second stage.
- VOCATIONAL STAGE For the vocational stage the student must complete of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) - formerly known as the Bar Vocational Course.
This can either be done full time (taking one year) or part time (taking two years) and is designed to equip students with the necessary skills, knowledge of procedure and evidence, attitudes and competence to enable them to become effective members of the Bar of England and Wales.
Acceptance on the course is dependent on the student having acquired at least a 2:2 degree in the academic stage.
The BPTC is often the first realization many aspiring barristers get as to just how competitive the entry process into the procession is. Each year around 3,000 applicants vie for the approximate 1800 available places.
Various institutions, such as BPP University and the City Law School offer the course, and you can read more about it on their respective websites.
On successful completion of the BPTC, a student will be Called to the Bar and will then be able to describe herself, or himself, legitimately as a barrister.
THE THIRD STAGE
Now, you might think that, having gone through all the effort of stages one and two; having been Called to the Bar, and being entitled to call yourself a barrister, the rest is a mere formality.
Sadly, it isn't, since students must now overcome the biggest hurdle of all, the third stage on the rocky road to chambers - Pupillage.
- PUPILLAGE If you thought that getting onto the BPTC was a challenge, then just wait till you read what awaits the aspirant at the pupillage stage.
Whereas a 2:2 degree was adequate for the BPTC, you're probably going to need a 2:1 to be considered for a pupillage. And, unless you can obtain a pupillage, you cannot complete your training and practice as a barrister, so all your hard work may fall at this final hurdle.
Pupillage is undertaken within a set of barristers chambers (or another approved legal environment) and getting one of those much sought after places is incredibly competitive.
In fact, the actual success rate makes for a depressingly stark statistic. Around 1400 students take the BPTC every year and, typically, the number of pupillages offered is about 433 each year. Then, if you factor in the unsuccessful applicants from previous years (you can apply for a pupillage for up to five years after successfully completing the BPTC) who will be re-applying; and there can be upwards of 3,000 individuals applying for the available pupillages in any given year. Some chambers have been known to receive over 100 applications per each available pupillage.
To say that getting over this final hurdle is competitive, is an understatement. 51% of those who apply won't even get an interview. If you then factor in those who are unsuccessful at the interview stage, then the overall rejection rate is something like 75%.
A large number of available pupillages are advertised on the Pupillage Gateway and successful applicants will usually start in September or October, one year after being accepted by the chambers.
Pupillage will last for 12 months and will be divided into two six month periods, known as "sixes." Chambers are required to fund pupillage with a minimum of £12,000 (often more), which is divided into £6,000 per each of the six months.
For the first "six" the pupil will be assigned a pupil supervisor - a barrister from the chambers or organization - who the pupil will shadow, and for whom the pupil will undertake supervised work, such as legal research and drafting court documents. The pupil will also accompany the pupil supervisor to court and conferences with clients.
During the second "six", pupils will be allowed to undertake cases of their own, albeit under supervision, and will, hopefully, have the opportunity to start building a list of contacts and clients in preparation for their upcoming career,
Having satisfactorily completed the two "sixes" the pupil will be a fully qualified barrister.
TENANCY IS THE NEXT HURDLE
But, even being fully qualified doesn't mean an end to the potential for rejection that has been looming over the new barrister for the past few years.
As the Bar Standards Board puts it on its warning page - yes, such is the potential for disappointment that they have to issue a health warning to those considering a life at the Bar:-
"You should also realise that, following pupillage, obtaining a tenancy in Chambers or a suitable position at the Employed Bar can also be very challenging. Each year there are normally fewer tenancies available than pupillages, and Chambers do not always offer tenancy to their own pupils."
It really makes you wonder why anyone would put themselves through all the trials and tribulations that are the lot in the life of an aspiring barrister?
Then, once you've secured a tenancy, if you factor in the need to establish yourself in the face of the recent austerity cuts to Legal Aid and increased competition from Solicitor Advocates, there's surely less prospect of rejection - and less competition - and more earning potential in auditioning to play the part of a barrister in a television drama than there is in trying to be one professionally?
And yet, those who get past all the hurdles, and who through a combination of perseverance, hard work, and a certain amount of good fortune - establish themselves - the rewards can make all the effort worth it and never has the old adage "if at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again" been more fitting than to those who set out on the road to the Bar.