The first detailed study into the role of the Inns of Court in increasing social mobility finds that students from non-traditional backgrounds continue to face serious challenges to access the profession, despite the efforts of the profession, universities and other organisations.
The study, funded by Keele University and the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple (one of the Barrister Inns of Court) suggests these challenges stem from a number of sources, including gaps in understanding of the profession amongst the students themselves, universities and the profession, the career advice given to students interested in the Bar and financial constraints which make it difficult for students to undertake work experience.
The study highlights the difficulties that some universities may experience in negotiating the line between providing balanced, realistic and accurate careers advice and reinforcing stereotypically perceived constraints about the profession.
The report recommends that the Bar build a dialogue with universities to make it clear that recruitment is based on merit rather than educational establishment or background, while, at the same time, exploring strategies to address the ways in which educational establishment and background continue to shape opportunities for access to the profession.
It calls on those in the profession to do more to help non-traditional students, by offering expenses to students on mini-pupillages, for example. It also finds that more should be done to ensure that those in the profession who have the responsibility for administering mini-pupillage schemes gain a better understanding of social mobility, educational disadvantage and the alternative paths that students from non-traditional backgrounds may have taken before applying to the Bar.
The study draws on the experience of students who participated in the Inner Temple’s Pegasus Access and Support Scheme (PASS), a programme designed to support students from underrepresented backgrounds into the profession, in part by helping them to find a mini-pupillage (a form of work experience in barristers’ chambers) and covering the associated expenses to allow them to complete it. The report shows that PASS works very well in increasing mutual exposure between non-traditional aspirant entrants and chambers.
Dr Elaine Freer, who authored the report said: “It is clear we need more mutual understanding between potential students, higher education, and the Bar to ensure that gifted students from non-traditional backgrounds do not slip through the net. Inner Temple’s work goes some way to addressing this by administering a scheme which offers mini-pupillages on the basis of potential and achievement wider than academic qualifications. Such experience of the profession provides a forum in which stereotypical views held by both non-traditional aspirant entrants and the profession can be challenged.
Professor Andrew Francis, now at the University of Leeds, who supervised the research, added: “Traditional thoughts on work experience might prevent those sitting on interview panels from recognising the depth and breadth of experience that underrepresented students might have gained through other means. Our understanding of what merit is and how it is applied is often ill-defined. Interview and selection panels must be clear on what they are looking for. Otherwise the experiences of underrepresented groups can often be overlooked.”
The Chief Executive of the Inner Temple, Patrick Maddams said: “As the gatekeeper to the profession and the only body that can call students to the Bar of England and Wales, the Barrister Inns of Court play an important role in overseeing access to the profession and the education of future barristers. Since 2009, the Inner Temple has worked hard to create a more diverse profession and this report shows that our programmes are transformational for individual students. The report is also challenging reading about what more can be done and we will not shy away from these challenges.”
Key findings of the final report to the Inner Temple
The Inner Temple and Keele University jointly funded a PhD project exploring ‘Professional Intervention, Social Mobility and Access to the Legal Profession’. The report explores the role of professional associations in promoting social mobility by evaluating the outreach activities run by the Inner Temple. The report particularly focused on PASS (Pegasus Access and Support Scheme). The report also looked at the Inner Temple’s involvement in the Pathways to Law programme, managed by the Sutton Trust.
The report draws on data from questionnaires (49 responses) and focus groups with 6 students who have been through the PASS process and 789 questionnaire responses and a focus group of 9 students who took part in the Pathways to Law programme. The report found that the overwhelming majority of students who had participated in PASS found the experience positive.
It was noted that the financial support provided by the Inn and chambers in covering travel and expenses (and now accommodation) was a key benefit of the scheme. The report found that some of the students on PASS had had to cut short their other mini-pupillages as they could not afford the costs. However, on PASS, the students could fully engage in mini-pupillages as financial cost was not a concern.
Background to PASS
PASS matches high-achieving students with partner chambers to undertake a mini-pupillage.
Students who during their time at school are on one of the following programmes have priority on the scheme:
- The Sutton Trust’s Pathways to Law
- The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF)’s Law Placement Scheme
- Warwick University’s Multi-cultural Scholars Programme (MSP)
- Inner Temple Schools Project
All the students on the programme are on track to have a 2:1 or above, have studied at a UK state secondary school and come from one of the following socio-economic backgrounds:
- First in their family to attend higher education;
- Parents were in receipt of either Income Support or Housing Benefit; or the candidate received Free School Meals at some point whilst at school;
- Care leavers: the candidate was in care at some point during his or her time in school;
- Students with disabilities
At the moment the scheme provides one mini-pupillage per student. However, the scheme aims to enable students to have the confidence to apply for more work experience placements by providing them with soft skills support.
More information about the scheme can be found on thehttp://www.pegasus.me/ website.
About the Honourable Society of Inner Temple
The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple is one of the four barrister Inns of Court of England and Wales. The Inns of Court hold the exclusive right to call candidates to practise at the Bar of England and Wales and are providers of legal education and training. The Inner Temple celebrated the 400th anniversary of the granting of its Royal Charter in 2008.
The Inn has over 8,000 qualified members, including judges, barristers (both practising and non-practising), pupils and students.
About Keele University
Keele University was founded more than 60 years ago to meet the demands of a new kind of society, economy and world, principles that resonate now more than ever.
Keele is a campus university, nestled in 600 acres of countryside in the heart of the UK. Many of our students and a number of our staff live, as well as study and work here. It’s a big campus but a small and cosmopolitan community. We operate on a human scale, providing people the space to think and plenty to do, with a vast array of clubs, societies, activities and volunteering opportunities. We successively rank at the very top of student satisfaction surveys.