Inn Scholarships – Updated

Thanks to my snout I am now in a position to give an inside view of an Inn Scholarship interview. The interpolations are mine.

I arrived at the Inn very early for my interview [a good idea]. It was with the intention of doing some last minute reading and demonstrating that if nothing else I can be on time but I soon realised it was also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of some of the other interviewees, or rather, size up the competition. One of them was leaving with a woman whom I assumed to be her mother. I was instantly grateful that my own mother hadn’t accompanied me. Although I love her and she is very supportive of me, she would have surely been a great distraction just prior to the interview. Besides, I would have then found it very difficult to answer questions about how independent I am.  Another interviewee had what I imagined the interview panel would see as ‘inappropriate’ hair. It was at that point that I remembered something important that I had to do; I had to remove my tongue stud. Imagine, a few weeks later being informed that I hadn’t got a scholarship…“The panel were very impressed and carefully considered offering you a scholarship but unfortunately, you had a piece of metal in your mouth”. I took it out. The ‘Tongue Studs for All’ campaign is on hold, for now at least [a relief: they are dangerous and are not the best choice of barristerial accessory].

I approached the door and was met by the guard who seemed very suspicious of me at first, as if I’d got the wrong building and he was going to have to direct me elsewhere, despite there being a notice about the interviews on the door. Maybe people mistakenly wander into the Inn all the time, or maybe he had his own score sheet and criteria and the interview had already started [if you had been rude to him the panel would probably have found out]. Once I’d told him what I was there for and he checked my name against the list, he was more welcoming. I asked him where I could leave my coat and bag and he showed me into a walk-in cupboard. He handed me a piece of paper and said, “There’s something for you to chew over while you’re waiting”, then directed me to where I should wait to be called for the interview. The piece of paper had on it the names of the five people who made up the panel and some brief details about their areas of practice. Pinned to a sort of noticeboard near the chair was a diagram of the room and where the members of the panel would be sitting and also pinned to it were additional copies of the piece of paper I held in my hand. Then came the water test; four bottles of water on the table next to me and several glasses. Was I supposed to drink it [yes]? Was it not meant for me [it was]? I was suddenly quite thirsty so I decided to go for it and take my chances of being reprimanded.

The piece of paper also had a question on it which I was supposed to give my views on in the interview:

In recent years there has been a series of cases in which the courts have granted an order preventing newspapers and the media from publishing details of an individual’s private life and at the same time granting anonymity to the person obtaining the order.

Elements of the press have criticised the courts, maintaining that the judges are introducing a de facto privacy law, and are interfering with the press in an unwarranted and undemocratic fashion.

Do you consider that:

(a)   the press are justified in their criticisms?

(b)   the courts are correct in granting such orders?

What did I think? I thought the exact same thing that I thought when I had been asked a very similar question at another interview where I was asked about balancing freedom of speech rights with the right to privacy. I was slightly disappointed. If this was the only question related to current issues, I wasn’t going to get the opportunity to attempt to impress them with the knowledge that I had acquired through reading late at night in the week or so before the interview and on the train to London (not forgetting to mention an episode of ‘Silk[please, do forget it. Silk bears roughly the relation to real life that Qhaddafi bears to a freedom-loving father of his people]). I tried to displace from my mind North Africa and the Middle East, reform of Legal Aid, control orders-lite, the disenfranchisement of prisoners, MPs and fraudulent expense claims etc., and planned out my answer to this unanticipated but answerable question in my head (I left my seven pens in my bag in the cupboard). It was then that the interviewee due in before me came crashing into the waiting area. “So, this is the act I’ll have to follow”, I thought. He was trembling and sweating so I offered him some water and he gratefully accepted. Now two of us could be told off if we weren’t supposed to drink it. His panic and terror made me feel all the more calm [this works for the Court of Appeal as well] and, as I was grateful for his nervous presence, when he was called into the room I wished him good luck. There were enough scholarships to go around and so a bitter rivalry wasn’t necessary, although, he never did say it back [charitably, nervous rather than rude].

After what felt like five minutes of staring out of the window, the door to the room opened, my new never to be seen again friend was ejected and it was my turn. The Chairman stood up as I entered and told me that he was the only one who would be shaking hands [helpful]. I shook his hand and sat at the long wooden table with the now deceased (probably) great and good of the Inn staring down from the walls at me. The two people at either end of the table sat with their heads bowed, refusing to look up. Were they going to look up? Were they going to ask any questions? My trusted piece of paper said that they might. The questions started, alternatively asked by the three members of the panel facing me, each question relevant to something I’d written about in my application; “What part of your degree did you enjoy the most ?”; “The end”; “What conclusions did you draw in your dissertation?”; “Good ones”; and “I see you’ve done some mooting…”; “Have I? Where does it say that?”. [Just in case you were wondering, those are not the answers I gave; my answers shall not be revealed but I certainly hope they were better than those [as do we all]]. This was followed by the question on the piece of paper. I had almost a speech prepared to give in answer but I was stopped mid-flow. See how I cope with judicial intervention? I know what you’re up to. They seemed to smile a lot at my answers throughout, which was slightly unnerving [almost certainly they were trying to set you at your ease]. Was that because they were good? Impressive? Laughable? Pitiful? Or had they stopped listening and were relying on the old smile and nod technique? Then came, “What is your greatest achievement… [pause for effect while the interviewee thinks about their degree/A Levels/GCSEs/11 Plus]…that is not academic?” It would have been not at all modest and quite presumptuous (and therefore not in my nature) to say receiving this scholarship but I exercised restraint and instead gave what I think may have been one of my best answers. Finally, a question along the lines of “As a woman at the Criminal Bar…” Yes I know. And that was it, they were done with me.

As for those people who sat at either end of the table, heads bowed? They never did look up or ask any questions but instead spent the whole time furiously scribbling away. I wouldn’t know them if I saw them again, unless someone introduced them to me by name or I was somehow able to recognise the tops of their heads, perhaps if I became an expert in phrenology [no such thing]. It didn’t strike me as strange until I was out of there, which was probably a good thing [it would have been helpful to introduce them and say what role they were playing]. Also when I came out, before heading to drown my sorrows/celebrate with my friend in a bar (as opposed to the Bar and by the way it’s surprising how many people genuinely think the Bar Professional Training Course is about making cocktails [don’t tempt me]), I started to worry whether, if I don’t get a scholarship, that means I’ve got no/less hope of getting pupillage [no]. Not that the two are interrelated and that pupillage always follows on from scholarship but because they’re decided on the same criteria, essentially; has this person got what it takes to be a barrister? [Not sure about that. Scholarships may well ask the question, “does this person need financial help to realise their objective and might they realise it?”] Helpfully, by chance, I later saw someone I could put my question to. He got pupillage but didn’t get a scholarship. Now I don’t want to rejoice in the misfortune of others but he made me feel better (and he did get pupillage so all’s well that ends well). And did I get the scholarship that may mean the difference between eating and not eating during the Bar Professional Course (it hasn’t really got to that point, not yet anyway)? I’m waiting for that letter.

Please do feel free to share experiences and comments below. If you were the nervous bloke before then now is your chance to say ‘good luck’ back.

Update: a major award resulted. And Ruby’s account of her Middle Temple Interview [not the same Inn as my correspondent] can be seen here.


26 thoughts on “Inn Scholarships – Updated

  1. Crikey.

    My own experience of scholarship interview was nothing like this and wonder if this was a process which took place at my inn!!
    Each inn would seem to have different criteria by which to measure the worth of it’s putative scholars, some of which seem terrifyingly stringent. What then, makes one choose an inn of court based on scholarship criterion- is it just finance, or is it finance + kudos, or for a fortunate few who dont have to worry, simply kudos?
    Beyond ( undoubtedly extremely valuable) financial assistance, is an inns scholarship worth anything at all these days?
    My own experiences tell me no, unfortunately. Shame that.

    1. Broadly agree that they’re not worth that much. That is unsurprising considering that financial need is one of the considerations.

      Would disagree that it’s a fortunate ‘few’. The majority at my provider have significant parental support.

      1. financial need is indeed ONE of the considerations. however the stated policy of middle temple, at least, is that the award of a scholarship is purely on merit (however they choose to define that). then the amount is determined by financial situation. so, yes, it is a form of approval. that said, i wouldn’t be surprised to hear that more scholarships are given out than pupillages are available…
        however, not only was i very glad of the cash, the feeling that a group of people with experience in the industry think you are worth a punt (albeit with someone else’s money) is a positive one.

    2. is one inn more kudos-ified than another? I know rather pompous types who believe they’ll be Chancery silks at 35 go for Lincoln’s – but that is out of a misguided notion that all Chancery silks are at Lincoln’s because Chancery chambers tend to be.

  2. The interviewers at my Scholarship Interview tried the ol’ Good Cop-Bad Cop routine. At mine I didn’t get a legal topic, it was simply just questions about myself: Why the Bar? What areas of law? etc.

  3. I remember the waiting-room experience of my scholarship interview all too well and it accords with the author’s account to an alarming degree: Mr Nervous, Mr So-Confident-I-Want-To-Tell-You-How-Great-I-Am-And-Unnerve-Everyone-Within-Earshot, Mr Sweaty (me) etc.

    I distinctly recall selecting the ‘public law exercise’. After 20 minutes of fervent absorption of the 17-or-so pages, the interview panel failed to ask me any questions about the exercise.

    Most of the interview focused on my application.

    One piece of advice that I received (people may – and should – already be doing this): for every line/point contained in your application, ensure that you have something interesting/witty/intelligent to say. Yes, I know, it seems obvious, but be anal about it: create a ring binder to accompany your application with a paragraph and sources for every word/sentence. I don’t think that this will necessarily stifle those with a flair for of-the-cuff responses, rather, the process of compilation will force you to consider why X has made into your application, and it will ensure that when you are asked about X, it will not be the first time that you have thought about/had to articulate it. My scholarship application contained a reference (one line) to the subject of my final year dissertation (not law – and written 4 years prior to the interview). It turned out that the lead panelist had a particular interest in this area of classical philosophy; he ‘hi-jacked’ 2/3 of the interview for a nice chat about Aristotle’s notion of change, so it was a good job that I’d taken the time to at least think about my paper/the reasons for including this piece of info in my application.

    1. The last comment is absolutely right. Interview panels for pupillage and for scholarships seem to love talking about my undergraduate dissertation on Anglo-Saxon poetry. My Inn Scholarship interview (Lincoln’s) went further, and one of the panel picked out a comment from one of my referees about a module from my undergraduate degree on which she had taught me, and spent a good five minutes asking about it. To be honest I was quite relieved, I’d rather talk about intertexuality than the law generally, but it could seriously throw someone.

  4. If it was, which I believe it was, Gray’s Inn that the post refers to, the people at the end of the table with their heads bowed are representatives of the Bedingfield Trust. The Bedingfield Scholarships are the top scholarships from Gray’s Inn, worth a full BPTC fee and then some, and as well as the panel which decides on all the Inn awards, the Bedingfield trustees will give additional views on which candidates should get Bedingfield Scholarships. I hope this helps.

  5. P.s. of course a Scholarship may help pupillage applications. It’s another line for the CV and many of those who you’re up against will have them. However, it isn’t determinative and won’t cancel out the fact you’ve got a 3rd class degree or fondled the bottom of the Clerk on the way into your interview.

  6. I have a scholarship interview at Lincoln’s. I’ve been trying to find out information about them since my letter (there is not a lot around about people’s experiences) so thanks : ).

  7. I had my interview at Inner yesterday. I was left not really having a sense of how it went because it was a lot easier and nicer than I expected. All the staff at Inner were lovely, welcoming and helpful. We had to choose an area of law (crime, family, or civil) and our group of about ten of us were taken to the library and given 30 mins to read it and take notes.

    After, we were taken to our interview rooms. The member of staff helpfully told me not to shake hands with the panel. I went in and there was a panel of four – a Judge as a Chair, a barrister on either side, and someone to look at the finances. The Judge was really friendly. She started by asking why I was taking this path now (I am a mature student, and working full-time). She also asked what area of law I was interested in. She then passed over to one of the barristers who asked if I thought I would be a good advocate, how I prepare for advocacy, and why not become a solicitor-advocate.

    It then went back to the Judge who asked about the case – assume they didn’t know anything about it and summarise the facts, then explain what was decided.

    It was then turned over to the guy who was there to look at the finances, who asked some questions to clarify my employment situation, savings, and whether I had other sources of income/financial support.

    They then asked if I had any questions, and I asked when to expect to hear (about 3 weeks or so).

    It was very quick – only about 15 mins, which I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing! It was friendly and the questions were straight-forward.

    Fingers crossed!

  8. The ‘nervous bloke’ wasn’t nervous. He had just sprinted from Holborn Station after the tube decided to stop for 10 minutes between stations. The ‘nervous bloke’ didn’t want to chat as he wanted to lower his heart rate and wipe the sweat away. Anyway, this post provided much amusement. And the best thing of all? The ‘nervous bloke’ scooped one of the top awards.

    1. Congratulations on the award. But I don’t think that talking prevents the heart rate falling, and I bet you could wipe your forehead and say good luck at the same time if you tried. Not that you were nervous…

      1. Don’t be a bully. He was brave to come forward and post. This sort of thread works best when there is a discussion. Give him credit.

      2. I didn’t mean to bully anyone. I don’t think I did either. The comment sought to justify the behaviour of the anonymous individual discussed in the post. It did so, in part, by categorising the post as ‘amusing’ and trumpeting the award. I didn’t think the justification worked and said so. But if I went too far I am sorry.

        Despite saying ‘good luck’, my poster scooped a major award too 🙂

  9. Is it luck that swings a scholarship?

    I now have only my Inn scholarship interview to pin my hopes on of gaining some funding (having exhausted my other applications) – whether I get any or not does not dictate whether I will take up my place at law school however, though whether I get any pupillage interviews this seasons does.

    I know five others who have been awarded full scholarships (3 in 2007, 1 in 2008 and 1 in 2009), and not one of these people has managed to secure pupillage (and only one of them got one, yes ONE, interview), so clearly securing a scholarship was not an indicator of their likelihood to succeed…and if the scholarships are not an indication of that, then what are they?

    Like everyone else I am concerned that I do not spend money on a qualification that will be of no use to me elsewhere. I am a mature entrant and as such have funded my own journey so far, and will likely continue to fund it, IF there is indication that I am not simply deluding myself.

    How do we, as applicants, quantify our chances when we compare very favourably with those in pupillage/early tenancy, but end up being turned down for scholarships? Is there some way to be definitive about our chances? If we don’t get a scholarship, should we presume we are not suited to the Bar (notwithstanding the experiences of the five people aforementioned)?

    As I asked…is it luck?

  10. I had my Inner Scholarship Interview at the weekend. Having won a GDL award last year, you’d think I would know a little about what to expect, and thus be less nervous, but nonetheless, my ability to eat food failed me in the hours before hand. Experience of a similar interview doesn’t remedy worries when one’s career practically depends on a good result!

    Before my start time I approached the reception and was given a briefing sheet to read. Then a group of us were escorted to the library to read our cases, before being sent to our separate panels. As with the GDL interview, the panel (and support staff) were very friendly, and there were no off putting questions. They discussed my CV, in terms of both academics and extra-curriculars (legal and social), my finances, and legal problem (I chose the civil topic, a rarity it seemed in my batch of interviewees, as the pile of civil cases was much bigger than criminal or family ones when I picked mine up). At the end they asked if there was anything they hadn’t picked up on that I wanted them to know about, and I said that they had covered everything I could think of.

    I have no idea how it went; due to the friendly nature of the panel, I certainly didn’t pick up any negative vibes, but that may not necessarily indicate a positive outcome! However, given the horror stories I have heard about some interviews at other Inns, regardless of outcome I have to say that Inner Temple really try to make the experience as painless as possible 🙂

    1. I went through this a year ago, and I must agree that the Inner Temple approach to the scholarship interview is relatively painless. Good luck.

  11. My Lincoln’s Inn interview is next week and I feel so under prepared yet I am the most prepared I have ever been in my life!
    I hope you get your letter bearing good tidings and hopefully, if I don’t fluff it up completely, so will I!
    Best of luck!

  12. For another perspective, I have written a detailed blog about my Middle Temple interview under the name ‘Ruby’ for LawCareers.Net. My computer won’t let me post the link for some reason. Click on the blogs link on the home page and it is the one named ‘Ruby’ with the red shoes photograph.

    I hope it is useful for those with looming Middle Temple interview.

    1. Hi, i cannot access your blog online, it seems to be removed. Would it be possible to post it here or e-mail it to me- alishah22@live.com. I have a scholarship interview coming up with Middle Temple, i could do with the tips and learn from your experience.

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