A couple of weeks ago, I opened an e-mail from Middle Temple to find that I am the recipient of a Jules Thorn Scholarship – providing an impressive boost for my CV, as well as a highly generous cash award to help take the sting out of Bar School. Naturally, as a blawger, I wish to offer some words of advice based upon my experience of this process.
Firstly, it should go without saying that if you wish to compete for a scholarship (and yes, it really is a competition), then your application form must be flawless. In other words, there should be no typos, no spelling mistakes and appropriate use of grammar throughout. In applying for a scholarship, you are holding yourself out as a would-be barrister; hence, the form says a lot about your attention-to-detail and written advocacy potential. My advice is to treat your application for a scholarship as though it were an application for a pupillage (as I did). Aim to be accurate, articulate and persuasive in your written responses to the questions…. but don’t then go and forget what you have written!
Secondly, if possible, try to organise your referees ahead of time. For a Middle Temple scholarship, you must arrange for two references to be submitted shortly after the application deadline. One reference must be academic – that is, a written statement of your intellectual ability from a professional (such as a former law tutor) who is in a position to comment both honestly and positively. For my part, I was extremely fortunate to be able to approach two respected ‘names’ in the law. I cannot say if using famous referees adds more value, but in my case, it clearly didn’t hurt. I met my esteemed contacts at legal events…. and was sure to stay in touch with them afterwards, regularly updating both as to my achievements in mooting, publishing, etc. Therefore, I cannot stress enough the value of networking. At a minimum, however, you should have a couple of law tutors (or perhaps one tutor and a lawyer) in mind, whom you could call upon to support your application whole-heartedly. Do let your intended praise-singers know, though!
Thirdly, start listening to the weekly programme Law in Action on BBC Radio 4. If you have a TiVo or Sky Plus box then you can set your machine to record it. Past episodes can be replayed online. This show is topical, but more importantly, it is fantastic at putting complex legal matter in simple terms which everyone (including non-lawyers) can grasp. In the days leading up to your scholarship interview, be sure to check-out Law in Action and, as a backup, read a quality daily newspaper like The Independent. This will ensure that you arrive fully briefed as to the latest legal news and political developments. Of course, you should form reasoned views of your own on current affairs and be ready to talk about these if required – as I was, and as you probably will be too. A couple of minutes spent discussing one topical issue is the most likely scenario, although, if (like me) you are cunning, you can steer the panel towards the issue that you would most like to discuss, rather than waiting for them to spring an issue on you at random. Remember that you must look for possible merits on both sides of a debate, no matter how wrong you personally consider one side to be.
Lastly, it may sound like a tired old cliché, but it pays to show manners…. literally, in my case. I replied to my scholarship e-mail a few days later, asking that my sincere thanks be expressed to the members of Panel #1 – who clearly saw the best in me. I said that the award has left me free to focus on securing pupillage, and I aim to show that the panel’s faith has been well-placed. A couple of days later, I received a reply from one of the panel members who invited me to meet with him for coffee (since we were soon to be in the same neck of the woods). We met, and I was treated to some rare personal praise, as well as some useful advice for Bar School…. and an offer of a few days’ work experience! Not a bad return on a bit of common courtesy. Hence, I would advise not leaving your manners at the interview room door. If you should get an award, follow through and say thanks to your panel.
As an after-thought for Middle Templars, the pupillage portal will probably have closed by the time you hear back from the Inn; hence, it will be too late to update your pupillage applications with details of a scholarship. However, it is worth checking online (as I did) to see if any deadlines have been extended for chambers that you may have applied to outside the portal. To my utter delight, I found that one of my non-portal sets had extended its pupillage deadline by a further two weeks. I thus e-mailed the head clerk of that set with details of my scholarship, and was assured that this new information would be added to my form.
The Jules Thorn Scholarship is one of the best awards that an aspiring barrister could hope for, and I feel proud to have received it. But no one gets a scholarship unless he or she is found, on a number of levels, to be worthy. Therefore, aside from the useful cash injection it brings, a scholarship (of whatever title) serves as your personal endorsement from the profession itself.
Make it count!