The Inns of Court

On completion of your law degree or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), you must join one of the four Inns of Court – Gray’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple or Lincoln’s Inn – before enrolling on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) 

The four Inns, which are all based in London, provide educational and collegiate activities, library facilities, training including continuing professional development, and support for barristers and student members. They also provide the mechanism by which people are called to the bar.

The Inns are also a vital source of financial assistance as they offer a number of grants and scholarships (see box, below).

Does it matter which Inn you join? In the grand scheme of things, not really. It may come down to which one offers you a scholarship. Otherwise, it is probably best to choose the one that feels most comfortable.

Inns of Court

Lincoln’s Inn

Background: Lincoln’s Inn possesses formal records contained in the ‘Black Books’, which date its legal activities from 1422.

The Inn’s name probably derives from Henry de Lacy, the third Earl of Lincoln (1249-1311), who is said to have been the patron of the Inn and to have lived in nearby Shoe Lane. The lion from the de Lacy family’s coat of arms still features on the Inn’s crest. The mill-rinds also visible on the crest were derived from the arms of Richard Kingsmill, a bencher who played a leading role in the 1580 acquisition of the whole of the current site.

The charm of the Inn lies in its stunning architecture, which managed to escape the devastation caused elsewhere by the bombs of World War II.

Famous members: Fifteen prime ministers, including Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher and novelists Charles Reade, Wilkie Collins and H Rider Haggard. Poet John Donne was Preacher to the Inn and laid the foundation stone of the present Chapel, built in 1623. Most famously, Thomas More was admitted as a student in 1496 and later became a bencher and governor of the Inn.

Quirky fact: During the 18th and 19th centuries, girls unable to care for their babies would sometimes leave them at the Inn’s chapel. The babies were subsequently ‘adopted’ and cared for into adulthood by the Inn. The children were often given the name Lincoln.

General: The Inn has strong connections with the Chancery Bar, but welcomes students aspiring to all fields of practice. It supplements a pupil’s formal training by arranging debates, moots, instruction, exercises in advocacy and experience as a judge’s marshal.

Former member Lord Denning set up an exclusive society with membership restricted to those who hold scholarships or bursaries at Lincoln’s Inn. The Denning Society meets three times a year – the most important occasion being a dinner in January to celebrate the great judge’s birthday.

Inner Temple

Background: The history of Inner Temple begins in the mid-12th century when the Order of the Knights Templar constructed the Temple Church on a site near the Thames. It was modelled on the Church of St Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the original church forms part of the Temple Church visible today.

Two hundred years later, lawyers came to inhabit the buildings left there after the abolition of the Order, and split themselves into two societies known as the Inner and the Middle Temples.

Each society occupied one of the halls constructed by the Templars and in 1732 the area was divided formally.

Each building can be identified by the emblems sculptured on them: a Pegasus represents Inner Temple, although the reasons for the design are unknown. It has been speculated that the Pegasus could have been taken from the Templars’ seal of two knights with shields on horseback, with the shields resembling wings.

Famous members: Mahatma Ghandi, Sir Francis Drake and Clement Atlee. The Duke of Edinburgh and the Princess Royal both hold positions as Royal Benchers.

Quirky fact: It is alleged that Geoffrey Chaucer was a member of the Inner Temple, and the Inn is mentioned in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.

General: The Inn has a strong reputation for producing European and world mooting or debating champions. There are many societies to which Inner Temple students can belong, including the mooting, debating and drama societies, as well as gaining automatic membership of the Inner Temple Student Association.

Hidden within Inner Temple is a unique three-acre garden, which boasts several unusual species of trees and flowers. The Inn is immensely proud of its garden and employs a head gardener and a team of permanent staff solely for the upkeep and presentation of the site.

Gray’s Inn

Background: While none of the Inns can concretely prove their date of origin, Gray’s Inn is thought to have been in fully-fledged existence by 1388. 

By the 16th century Gray’s Inn became the place du jour for noblemen and country gentlemen to send their sons. 

Beyond the entertainment, dancing and masquerades at the Inn, few members actually had the intention of fulfilling their education to become qualified barristers. The situation peaked between 1561 and 1600 when the average admittance to the Inn was 62 but the annual calls to the bar amounted to only six.

The hub of the Inn is located in the hall, and the site comprises an extensive library, chapel, chambers and sixty residential flats available for qualified members to rent.

Famous members: Thomas Cromwell, John Pym, Shakespeare’s patron the Earl of Southampton and philosopher Francis Bacon.

Quirky fact: In 1750, the librarian Fergus Clavering was granted an increase in salary to £30 per annum. He was so overcome when he heard the news he died soon afterwards.

General: There is an Association of Gray’s Inn Students – an organisation led by students that liaises between the members of the Inn and its benchers and administration. The association publishes a weekly newsletter called ‘The Griffin’.

Middle Temple

Background: Middle Temple’s history is linked closely with that of Inner Temple, as both have their roots in the original site created by the Order of the Knights Templar. The area occupied by both Inns made up one of the ancient Houses of Order, the Knights’ bases in England.

Middle Temple owns records dating from 1501 and a survey taken 73 years later already shows a very active society with some 200 members. Middle Temple buildings can be distinguished by the stone emblem of a lamb and flag.

Famous members: Sir Walter Raleigh and William Makepeace Thackeray. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, holds a position as Royal Bencher.

Quirky fact: When barristers are called to the bar at Middle Temple, they stand at a table known as the Cup Board to sign their name in the Inn’s book. This table is made of the hatch cover of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind.

General: The Inn is famous for holding the annual Rosamond Smith Mooting Competition and its templars are among the past victors of the World Debating Championship. The Inn also contributes into a fund to support events organised by students.

The library boasts about 150,000 books, including an enviable rare book collection on topics as varied as topography, early exploration, science and medicine. Moreover, the library owns two Molyneux Globes, made by famous Elizabethan globemaker Emery Molyneux. The pair comprises a terrestrial and celestial globe, and are two of only six left in existence.

Inns of Court scholarships – what’s on offer? 

Inn Award Total scholarship fund
per year (£k)
Number of scholarships available

Lincoln’s Inn

BPTC

1,334

Variable

CPE/GDL

150

Variable

Inner Temple

BPTC

1,125

Variable

CPE/GDL

182

Variable

Middle Temple

BPTC

900

Variable

CPE/GDL

90

Variable

Gray’s Inn

BPTC

712

Variable

CPE/GDL

133

Variable