I was incredibly fortunate and still thank my lucky stars that I was awarded a scholarship from my Inn of Court. Inner Temple, if you were wondering. The money more than covers my BPTC fees and will go some way to helping me afford the cost of living when undertaking the course.
It goes without saying that financially my scholarship will be invaluable and that without it I would have been facing an increasingly insurmountable amount of debt and/or the possibility of having to take a gap year out pre-BPTC in order to work and raise some funds. As I said, I thank my lucky stars.
More than this, my scholarship has given me some much needed confidence. I remain aware of the fierce competition that I face but, the fact that a panel of barristers, QCs and Inner Temple officials saw something in me worthy of endorsing me financially, speaks volumes. It’s encouraging. With discussions focusing on legal aid cuts, lack of pupillages, ridiculous competition, low salaries and a dying profession, it can be easy to grow disheartened. My scholarship has helped me enormously.
So how do you go about getting one? I don’t profess to be an expert and this is only from my experience, but here are my tips:
- Choose your Inn.
Technically, the inn you chose makes no difference to your career. You can’t really choose “a bad inn.” Further, they’re all much of a muchness- they all have different societies that you can join, they all put on numerous events and talks for you to participate in and they all have a big pot of money into which they can delve to help ease the burden of BPTC fees.
So, how do you choose? Visit them all, talk to people and scour their websites. I also made a chart listing all the things that each Inn offered and the little quirks of each that I liked. When compared it’s much easier to work out which Inn has the most pros for you and the Inn with the most cons.
(I chose Inner Temple, I like that it isn’t huge (Lincoln’s Inn is by far the biggest) and thought that the fact that all scholarship applicants were interviewed would work in my favour (Middle Temple are the only other Inn who interview all scholarship applicants.) I liked the feel of the Inn the most when I visited it and having seen photos of the various events hosted by Inner Temple, the deal was clinched!)
The four inns are;
Lincoln’s Inn: http://www.lincolnsinn.org.uk/
Gray’s Inn: http://www.graysinn.info/
Inner Temple: http://www.innertemple.org.uk/
Middle Temple: http://www.middletemple.org.uk/home/
- Apply for the scholarship.
Stating the obvious, I know. You’ve got to be in it, to win it! Don’t be put off by the fact you attend a non- Russell Group university or because you didn’t obtain a first class honours in your degree because there are plenty of scholarships available and plenty of very generous ones awarded to all sorts of applicants. Let me be proof of that! If nothing else, the application is a good insight into what future applications for pupillages may be like. They ask you to outline your academics, your experience and your motivation, amongst other things.
(I was so very, very close to not bothering to apply. In fact, having completed my application I only decided to submit it on the 31st of October during my lunch hour on the final day of a mini-pupillage. I presumed that my mediocre academics and the absence of something that really makes me stand out from the crowd would render me unsuccessful. Clearly my academics were fine and the panel saw something in me that did distinguish me from the rest! You’ve nothing to lose!)
- Don’t over prepare.
For starters, it’s near enough impossible to predict what you might be asked in a scholarship interview, just expect to be challenged. Prepare answers for obvious questions such as; “why do you want to be a barrister?” (you should already know this!) and “what practice areas are you hoping to go in to and why?” Have a good understanding of your finances; are your parents prepared to help you? Are you going to have to get a loan? A job? Both? How much do you have in savings? How much is the cost of living in the city where you’re undertaking the BPTC? Go in armed with the basics, re-read your application and swot up on a current affairs issue and a legal issue and just be ready to argue both sides of any given coin thrown at you!
(I was asked to talk, at length, about an obscure volunteering activity on my application that I had done five years previously and only mentioned in passing. I was able to link this volunteering to a current affairs issue and was so thankful that I had re-read my application and spent a minute or so thinking about the very activity I was questioned on!)
- Get a good night’s sleep.
Try to get a good night’s sleep the night before. You need to be alert and savvy and ready for a challenge. They might ask you to argue something or ask for your opinion on something that they know you will not have prepared. If you’re at your best then you can give them your best.
(In my interview, I was given the choice of three unreported and unseen cases. Family, civil and criminal law, of which I had to choose one and had forty minutes to prepare. I was then grilled on the case that I had prepared. A good night’s sleep was invaluable for this exercise as they questioned my memory on what I had prepared, changed the case facts to make me truly think about it and then played devil’s advocate to make me question my views!)
- Play to your strengths.
An interview is a formal conversation. You do have, to some extent, the scope to bring to it what you want. You can take a conversation in any (relevant) direction so play to your strengths. If they ask you to discuss a legal issue that interests you then do, don’t discuss an area that doesn’t interest you but that you consider will impress them. It’s far more likely that your genuine interest will appeal to them than a forced interest!
(For me, I chose the family law case to prepare and then discuss as it was the module I had most recently studied and enjoyed. On this basis alone I chose this topic even though the others in my group all opted for civil law and despite the fact that I knew a criminal case might better lead me into a discussion about morality, the law and recent legal issues. Always play to your strengths!)
- Be confident
It’s certainly easier said than done, I know. An interview with potentially thousands of pounds at stake isn’t exactly the most comforting of experiences. Just remember that you’re good, you wouldn’t be toying with the Bar if you didn’t have decent academics. Remember that they’re looking to see how you cope under pressure and how you think on your feet (this is afterall, what a barrister’s job entails) and remember that your opinion counts- if you truly believe something and can articulate your reasons well, then defend your views! TRY to be confident!
I cannot emphasise how truly lovely my panel were. The whole process ran smoothly and I was made to feel at ease at every stage- by the volunteer students (previous scholarship winners) who took us to our interviews and to the library to prepare our cases and the panel of barristers who had given up their Saturday in the middle of April for us! They all made me feel at ease and didn’t try to push me or make me feel that my answers were wrong/inadequate. At the end of the interview, I had a chance to meet up with a few other students who had been interviewed for scholarships by other panels- we shared our best answers and the ones we regretted and wished we could change!
What happens if you don’t get a scholarship? Don’t be too disheartened! The absence of a scholarship doesn’t mean you have no chance of getting a pupillage. (Equally a scholarship doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to walk into one!) If you know your interview was a disaster then it may be down to your interview skills rather than the merits of your CV/you! If you were banking on getting one to fund the course then take a year out doing something useful and try again- it could just be the nerves of the day, the fact that the people you were competing against were ever so slightly better or just proof that you’re not ready for it.
Good luck to everyone who applies for a scholarship!