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Education and Training

The early role of the Inns of Court in the education and training of Barristers

The exact origins of the Inns of Court are not fully known.  There was no founding or dated charter, but it is estimated that their foundation occurred in the early 15th century, as the records of Lincoln’s Inn date back to 1422.  Lincoln’s Inn is thought to be the earliest of any of the Inns of Court.  In 1608, King James I granted Letters Patent to the Societies of the Inner and Middle Temples on condition that the lands were used ‘to serve for all time to come for the accommodation and education of the students and practitioners of laws of the realm’.

In addition to its connection with places to stay for travellers, the term “Inn” was also used to describe the large houses of statesmen, bishops, civil servants and lawyers whose business brought them to London, especially when Parliament and the courts were in session.  The latter type of inn provided accommodation for law students, or ‘apprentices of law’, who at the period learnt their craft largely by attending court and sharing education and accommodation during the legal terms. 

The term ‘barrister’ was originally applied to a graduate of the Inn who had successfully negotiated the elaborate legal exercises set in Hall, which was laid out for moots like a court, with a bar.  Although there were various attempts to regulate those who appeared in court, any requirement that they be barristers of an Inn of Court emerged at first as a matter of practice, but was then finally confirmed as a matter of law in a case in 1590.  By this time, the title of ‘Barrister’ had become both a degree status and the name of one who practised law through a right of audience.

The recognition of barristers’ exclusive right of audience was no doubt due in part to the thoroughness of the original medieval system of legal education provided by the Inns with at least seven years between admission as a student and call to the Bar.  That system broke down during the English Civil war in 1642 and the old residence requirements for students became focused on ‘dining’ to enable learning through contact and networking with experts. 

It was not until the middle of the 18th century that the common law was recognised as a subject for study in the universities.  In 1852, Bar examinations were introduced by the profession and in 1872 they became compulsory for entry.  In 1883 the Inns of Court School of Law was established as the principal college for vocational training for the Bar.  The present framework of training has been developed from that time.

The modern Inn’s role in the education and training of barristers

The Inns provide their students with a collegiate experience. In addition to networking through social activities such as dining with experienced members of the profession, for  which the Inns have traditionally been known, their current focus is now firmly on developing the knowledge and skills necessary for their students to practise as  barristers.  As the professional ‘home’ of the Bar, the Inns are where long-term relationships may be forged between those coming into the profession and those with long experience of working in the Courts.

Each Inn offers its students an educational programme composed of modules or ‘qualifying sessions’. Qualifying Sessions are by definition both educational and collegiate.  The four Inns provide a variety of Qualifying Sessions each year with a view to presenting students with a wide choice to enable them to learn about the law and more broadly about the legal profession, as well as to develop their advocacy and public speaking skills.  The Qualifying Sessions - which at Middle Temple range from lectures to residential advocacy training weekends, presentation skills sessions, debates and moots - are designed to add to the skills and knowledge gained on the Bar Professional Training Course and to bring the students’ learning to life through contact with practising barristers and judges.

Students must complete 12 Qualifying Sessions (one of which is the Call Ceremony itself) prior to applying to be Called to the Bar. The learning opportunities available are broad-ranging, and many students elect to attend more than the requisite 12.

The four Inns of Court, all of which are situated within walking distance of the Royal Courts of Justice in London, recognise that a large proportion of students on the Bar Professional Training Course study in other cities and so make special arrangements to facilitate the completion of the requisite Qualifying Sessions by these students.  The Inns hold events in London which are set aside for those studying outside London where there might be, for example, a series of talks followed by a social event.  In addition, Qualifying Sessions are arranged locally to the Bar Professional Training Course providers with the assistance of local barristers and judges.

Other educational opportunities

The Inns also carry out additional activities in support of their students with a view to increasing the educational opportunities open to them, but which are not necessarily Qualifying Sessions.  For example, students may be linked with barristers who act as their sponsors during the period of the course.  The sponsor acts as adviser and ‘touchstone’ and assists in the process of introducing the student to life at the Bar. In addition, students have an opportunity to take part in mooting and debating workshops and competitions between the Inns and against other educational institutions. 

Arrangements are also made through the Inns for students to spend time in court with judges, discussing the cases which come before them and observing the way in which they are conducted.  This activity is called ‘marshalling’.  All who take part give their time for free.

Call to the Bar

Following successful completion of the Bar Professional Training Course and attendance at the required number of Qualifying Sessions, students are ‘called’ to the Degree of the Utter Bar by their Inn of Court.  This is their Call Day, or graduation ceremony.

At Middle Temple, the Call ceremony follows centuries of tradition and is held in the Inn’s 16th century Hall. Here, watched by family and friends, students are able to wear the wig and gown of the profession for the first time as, one by one, they are ‘called’ to sign their names in the Call Register, which is laid upon the ancient table known as the ‘Cup Board’, reputed to be made from wood from the hatch cover of the Golden Hind, the ship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe in the 17th century. Many students say subsequently that Call Day is the most important day of their lives, and it is a celebration which lasts in the memory long after the event itself.

The Inn’s role in the support of trainee barristers

After Call to the Bar, a further 12 months of training are required before new barristers may work independently as advocates in the court system. Middle Temple continues to support those of its students who successfully apply for and achieve pupillage, which represents the next phase of their professional lives.

Under the supervision of a Pupil Supervisor in chambers or another accredited organisation, a trainee barrister, known as a pupil, must undertake a period of   ‘pupillage’.  This period of one year is divided into two six-month terms. 

During the first six months (‘the 1st six’) the pupil undertakes compulsory and assessed training which will include shadowing practising barristers in court to observe advocacy and court conduct, drafting pleadings and other documents such as contracts, preparation of written advice and attendance at conferences with clients. The pupil is also required to undertake an external, compulsory advocacy training course provided either by the Inns of Court or by the Circuits.  Instruction is delivered by trained trainers, who are experienced practitioners and judges. 

Successful completion of this course, along with official sign-off from the Pupil Supervisor, will entitle the pupil to obtain a Provisional Qualification Certificate issued by the Bar Standards Board which may then entitle them, in due course, to receive a practising certificate issued by the Bar Council.  Possession of a practising certificate allows the pupil to enter the second six months of training with rights of audience and the ability to represent clients in court.  The period of the second six is fully supervised by the pupil’s Pupil Supervisor.

In order to become Pupil Supervisors, barristers must normally undergo training themselves. Again, Middle Temple plays an important role here, for barristers must apply to become Pupil Supervisors via their respective Inns, which provide them with bespoke courses.

The Inn’s role in maintaining the ethos of the profession

The proper administration of justice by judges and the contribution which is made by the Bar depend very much on the integrity of advocates.  Judges need to be able to rely on advocates to put their cases effectively and honestly and to draw attention to both supporting and opposing arguments as appropriate.  Both judges and practitioners appreciate that, unless this duty to the court is respected, the administration of justice will suffer. 

Judges and the public must also be able to have the confidence that advocates will observe the highest professional standards.  The Inns have an important role in promoting and protecting these high ethical standards among members of the Bar from the very start of their careers when they join an Inn.  A correct understanding of the various duties by which advocates are bound is central to their professional role and is at the core of discussion and teaching at the Inns.

Attendance at Qualifying Sessions presents students with an opportunity to get to know many of their contemporaries, as well as practising members of the Bar and judges.  Inns encourage contact with practitioners in various ways, for example by requiring students to meet practitioners after the lectures which the Inns run for their members and at student advocacy weekends and other training events.  Students and new practitioners are thus exposed directly to the ethos and ethics of experienced members of the profession at an early stage of their training and gain from their experience.

Students are supported in their studies by the facilities offered at the Inns’ libraries.  The libraries then support them throughout their careers.

Pupillage, the New Practitioners’ Programme and Continuing Professional Development all reinforce in practitioners the standards and ethos of the Bar.

All of those who go into practice as barristers will have completed pupillage and many will have received scholarships from their Inns.  They will all have benefitted from the education and training provided by their Inn.  They may in due course reciprocate by becoming involved themselves in their Inn’s activities including the delivery of advocacy training.  The training that members receive from their Inns, both before and after being called to the Bar, is provided pro bono by volunteer barristers and judges who have voluntarily undergone training themselves to deliver this service to the profession.  This reinforces and exemplifies the vocational aspect of the profession.

The Inn’s role in maintaining the standards of the profession

The Inns are closely engaged not only in maintaining the standards and ethos of the profession, but also in addressing disciplinary offences declared or committed by applicants, students and practising barristers.

Applicants or students are required to declare on admission or prior to Call any previous convictions or offences.  When an applicant or student declares a previous conviction on his or her admission or Call form the Inn must refer the case to the Inns’ Conduct Committee.

The function of the Inns’ Conduct Committee is: 

a)   to determine whether an applicant for admission to an Inn or for Call is a fit and proper person to become a barrister; 

b)   to determine whether the conduct of a student of an Inn is so serious as to call into question his or her fitness to practise as a barrister and if so to administer appropriate sanctions; and 

c)   to hear and determine appeals around minor internal disciplinary matters against that student.

The Inns’ Conduct Committee will consider the case and, if it agrees that the matter is serious, refer it to a Panel.  A range of sanctions is available to the Panel.  The most serious cases can lead to refusal to admit the individual to the course, to expulsion from the Inn, or a refusal of permission for the student to be Called to the Bar.  Appeal is to the Bar Standards Board.  Following good governance practice, panels are made up of a mix of lay and barrister members. 

In the case of existing practitioners, the Inns had for many years delegated their disciplinary role to the Bar Council.  That function was subsequently transferred to the BSB, but in order to maintain the separation of adjudicators and the enforcing authority, the Inns have again become central to the disciplinary process, and the Council of the Inns of Court (COIC) now recruits, appoints and administers a panel of members for all disciplinary hearings and operates a professionally-run disciplinary tribunal service on behalf of the Bar.  COIC’s involvement ensures the independence of the panels and the final decision making within the fitness to practise and disciplinary process.