The Middle Temple recognises that those who represent clients in court in the interests of justice must come from the widest possible cross-section of society, reflecting the broad spectrum of their clients’ backgrounds, and actively promotes diversity and social mobility.
More than £1 million will be provided by Middle Temple this year for students training for the Bar. While merit in the broadest sense is the primary criterion of selection, need is taken into account for many of these awards in terms of the level of funding offered. This is done in order to ensure that financial need is not a barrier for capable young people on their route into the profession. The level of funding provided has increased year-on-year to keep pace with increases in the fees of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). However, the cost of the BPTC – now between £12,000 and £17,000 - is still considered to be one of the most significant barriers to further social mobility and access to the Bar, particularly when this is considered in conjunction with the new levels of university fees from 2012.
A somewhat less tangible barrier is a sense of ‘this is not for the likes of me’, which is even more difficult to tackle. To address this, Middle Temple undertakes outreach programmes to introduce students to the world of the Bar and thereby encourage equality, diversity and social mobility in the profession. All four of the Inns are working with a number of third sector organisations to deliver projects to increase diversity and encourage social mobility as effectively as possible and in co-ordination with chambers, Specialist Bar Associations, Circuits and the Bar Council.
The Middle Temple Access to the Bar Awards are a noteworthy example of how we try to reach able students from backgrounds which do not traditionally encourage aspirations for a career at the Bar. Funded by the donations of senior members of the Inn, the scheme provides two funded weeks of work experience every summer for up to eight undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds. One week will be spent marshalling (i.e. shadowing a judge in court) and the other undertaking a mini-pupillage. University departments are invited to nominate two candidates each, with about 20 being shortlisted for interview. Feedback has been extremely positive: students have commented on how friendly and welcoming they found both the Bar and the judiciary, and chambers have indicated how keen and diligent they found the students.
We have had similar success with our annual Middle Temple Open Day for Schools and Universities which, again, gives students an opportunity to enter a world which is unknown territory to many, and to meet judges, barristers and junior members of the Inn at various levels of training.
It may be an overstatement to claim that these schemes remove the fear of the unknown, but it is clear that they can help to reassure those who are reluctant to find out more about a career at the Bar and they are prioritised by Middle Temple to address the serious need for the most diverse and high quality range of client representation possible in the court system.