A guide to Qualifying Sessions for BPTC students
In order to be able to undertake your BPTC/ Bar year, you have to join an Inn of Court. Inns of Court are similar to a very traditional ‘Union’ for a barrister. They retain the ability to be able to ‘Call’ a barrister to the Bar and membership is for life.
There are four Inns: Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn. All of them are located in Central London and consist of beautiful historic buildings that can make you feel a bit like you are at Hogwarts.
Before being ‘called to the Bar’, as well as completing a Qualifying Law Degree and the BPTC, once you are a member of an Inn, a student has to complete 12 ‘Qualifying Sessions’. As I have completed my Qualifying Sessions and hope to be called in November 2020, in this article I share my experiences of the different Qualifying Sessions I have taken part in, especially as I found some events quite daunting.
As an Out of London BPTC student, the first Inn experience I (and all my fellow Cardiff peers) had was the Introductory Weekend held by every Inn, right at the beginning of the academic year. The weekend firstly gives you 3 Qualifying Sessions, and is the first contact many students will have with the Inn. The weekend is made up of a formal seated dinner, ethics sessions, introductory speeches and usually an advocacy style talk from a prominent barrister. The weekend is well- worth going along to, firstly for the Qualifying Session points you will accumulate, but also, although possibly boring at times, it can also be incredibly inspiring.
Every Inn offers around 4 balloted Residential Weekends a year, located in different parts of the UK, like Windsor and Northampton. Residential Weekends are absolutely brilliant in that you gain a solid number of Qualifying Sessions (3, on average) whilst networking with a vast number of barristers. I was lucky enough to go to Cumberland Lodge in Windsor and even met the Queen! These weekends are certainly different and do require a leap of faith, but they are definitely worth it for the contacts you will make and the feedback you will gain.
Domus, the Latin translation for ‘Home’ means an Inn dinner usually with many different courses and copious wine. In fact, I have never been to an event with the Inn in which alcohol is not involved (it is certainly not compulsory though). For these dinners, you are given a gown to wear by the Inn and seated, normally within a few spaces of a member of the Bar and Bench. At Lincoln’s Inn, and I am told at other Inn’s too, the food is good and it is a very kind atmosphere. As Qualifying Sessions go, Domus Dinners are cheap (normally under £25) methods of gaining Qualifying Sessions and involve no preparation. I really enjoy dining with my Inn and the contacts I have made during Dinners are invaluable.
Guest Speakers & Drinks Receptions
Another Qualifying Session often on offer are evenings with Guest Speakers followed by Drinks Reception. I attended an evening with a professor talking about a topic I had never encountered before. The talk was in a lecture style theatre and lasted 45 minutes. From all the reports of my fellow students, all guest speakers have been engaging and interesting. The 45 minutes zoomed by. We were then ushered into a reception room to drink and mingle. Once again, the room was full of members of the Bar and Bench who really wanted to help. The evening only lasted a few hours and was definitely worth attending for the Qualifying Session.
Local Qualifying Sessions
As the Cardiff University Lincolns Inn Student Representative, I had the task of hosting 2 Qualifying Sessions in Cardiff for the Inn. If you are an Out of London student, firstly, I would highly recommend applying for this role (normally the August before you begin), and secondly, I would recommend attending all these events. With such a hectic course, these evenings are some of the only time you spend with your course mates not in a class room or library. They are also brilliant ways to gain Qualifying Sessions if you live on Circuit whilst not having to travel into London!
When I started my Bar year, I was slightly dubious of why it was necessary to spend so much time at the Inn. Over the year however, I have realised that the Inn has completely succeeded in pushing me out my comfort zone whilst surrounding me with practitioners that really want to help. The camaraderie at the Bar is outstanding, and as much as I enjoy a proper dinner and loads of red wine, I am lucky to be part of an Inn and look forward to continuing my relationship with Lincolns Inn as my career develops.
By Hannah Friedman