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Becoming a barrister: what are the Inns of Court?

updated on 02 January 2024

The Inns of Court – what are they and why do you need to join one? LawCareers.Net answers your questions about the Inns of Court in this Feature, including when and how to join an Inn. If you’re an aspiring barrister, you must join an Inn to be called to the Bar. Read this guide to make sure you understand what steps you need to take to become a barrister.

Reading time: seven minutes

What are the Inns of Court?

The ‘Inns of Court’ is the collective name for the four legal societies in London that have the exclusive right of admission to the Bar; they’re called Gray’s InnLincoln’s InnInner Temple and Middle Temple. They’re mostly non-academic societies that provide activities and support for barristers, pupils and students. Each Inn runs its own events for aspiring barristers throughout the year, so you must keep up to date with which events are happening to ensure you’re making the most of the opportunities on offer.

The Inns are located in London’s legal district close to chambers, the Royal Courts of Justice and the Old Bailey and are important cogs in the education and training of junior barristers. Aspiring barristers can also use the Inns as a source of information and resources in their journey to the Bar.

On top of the education, training and support that comes with joining an Inn, it’s also important to note the financial support that they provide prospective barristers embarking on a Bar course and/or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).

You can find out more about the scholarships and bursaries on offer later in this Feature or visit the Inns of Court scholarships page on LawCareers.Net.

Why do I need to join an Inn?

Aspiring barristers can’t start the vocational component to becoming a barrister (ie, a Bar course) if they’ve not joined an Inn.

When should I join an Inn?

You must join an Inn at least 12 weeks before commencing the Bar course. That said, it’s often a case of the earlier the better in terms of getting involved with the activities and using the facilities (eg, library and common rooms). There’s also a one-off admission fee of around £100 for joining one of the Inns.

How do I join an Inn?

The Bar Standards Board explains that aspiring barristers should apply for membership directly to their chosen Inn with an Admission Declaration. The declaration is then used to identify whether there are any issues that might mean you’d be unable to practise as a barrister. If any issues are identified, your chosen Inn will refer your application to the Inns Conduct Committee.

You can visit each of the Inns’ websites for information on how to join, including application packs that all prospective barristers are encouraged to read before starting the application process. There are different processes in place for students and transferring lawyers, so pay close attention to what’s required of you.

Do the Inns offer scholarships?

In recent years, the four Inns have dished out millions of pounds in awards – the ‘umbrella’ term they all use to describe scholarships, bursaries and grants. Curiously, most aspiring barristers know little about the awards available and although the Inns’ websites provide some information, there’s a complex web of requirements and application procedures, meaning that working out exactly what’s available can be challenging.

Each Inn offers a variety of awards to its pupil members, including:

  • scholarships for the GDL;
  • scholarships for the Bar course (ie, the vocational component);
  • pupillage awards;
  • assistance for students with a disability;
  • assistance for work experience opportunities; and
  • essay and mooting prizes.

Information on the specific awards that are available can be found on the individual Inns’ websites. You’ll have to complete an application form, which asks for character details, legal experience, income/funds and references. If the scholarships committee at your Inn likes your application, you’ll be invited to an interview.

Lincoln’s Inn

Lincoln’s Inn offers 32 scholarships for non-law graduates with a total of up to £178,200 for those studying the GDL and scholarships and bursaries worth £1.6 million for those on the Bar course. The value of each award is calculated through a means test based on the applicants’ disclosed financial resources and obligations. Students are encouraged to apply for awards in the autumn term of their third year at university or the year before starting the GDL or Bar course. In 2023, 121 Bar students were awarded scholarships. The majority of scholarship applications are now made via the Inn’s online portal. Questions about the process can be directed to the scholarships coordinator.

Inner Temple

This Inn aims to make awards to a total value of £1.7 million in 2024 for students on the Bar course. In 2023, the Inn offered 131 scholarships for those on the Bar course.

For those on the GDL, a number of scholarships are available. In 2023, the Inn aimed to offer £200,500 in GDL scholarships. The top two scholarships are a £10,000 award and a £7,500 award, with £183,000 available for four major scholarships and up to 30 exhibition scholarships – these are allocated based on merit and financial means. Several pupillage awards are also available, alongside small disability awards. In addition, students who receive a GDL award, and successfully complete a conversion course, automatically receive an award of, at least, the same amount for their Bar course. For more information on the awards available, head to the Inn’s website.

Middle Temple

In 2022, Middle Temple awarded scholarships worth around £1.22 million, with more than £1.1 million allocated to Bar course students and the majority of the rest to GDL students. While the awarding of scholarships is based solely on merit, the size of the awards are based on the applicant’s financial circumstances. The Inn also has an Emergency Assistance Scheme designed for pupils and students who experience severe, unforeseen financial difficulties and for pupils who are on low awards in publicly funded areas of law. As with the other Inns, you can find lots more information about the scholarships on offer at Middle Temple via its website.

Gray’s Inn

Despite being the smallest Inn of the four, Gray’s Inn awards at least £1.4 million in scholarships and prizes each year. This year, the Inn intends to offer 85 Bar course scholarships of between £5,000 to £20,000, with successful scholars able to apply for one of 16 residential scholarships within the Inn’s estate for the duration of their course. Last year, the Inn awarded 88 scholarships and the maximum award was £23,000.

On top of those, there are up to 35 GDL scholarships up for grabs for non-law students, with values between £2,500 and £12,000 based on means testing. The Inn also has scholarships available for its pupil members, including those undertaking legal aid work; Hebe Plunkett scholarships that assist members who’ll incur additional expenditure due to a disability or chronic health condition; internship scholarships; and a number of other prizes for mooting and essay writing. Head to the Inn’s website for further information on these awards.

How to choose an Inn?

As with any decision you make surrounding your career, conducting some in-depth research is essential. While your choice of Inn won’t impact the area of law you choose to practise or your pupillage, there are several other factors that you might want to take into account, including atmosphere, history and scholarships, for example. As mentioned previously, each Inn hosts events for students, including InnSight Days at Lincoln’s Inn, university presentations and workshops. Attending these events will help you to make a more informed decision. Aspiring barristers are also encouraged to reach out to the separate Inns and speak to current members to help them with their choice. The Inn you join is very much a personal choice.

Ellie Nicholl is the content and engagement coordinator at LawCareers.Net.