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Gray’s Inn Overview

by Charles Nwabueze
Reading Time: 6 minutes

The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn (better known as Gray’s Inn) along with the Middle Temple, Inner Temple and Lincoln’s Inn are one of four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the Bar of England and Wales. Gray’s Inn exists to support, educate and develop its student members who aspire to be barristers and to provide continuing professional development to its qualified barrister members as per its historic traditions. The Inn has a substantial estate predominantly set around two squares, South Square and Gray’s Inn Square, and its gardens, known as ‘The Walks’. The Inn also has 9 self-contained accommodation units available for its members and members of the other Inns who have been called to the Bar. The Inn uses income generated from the commercial and residential lettings on its estate to provide scholarships to support those commencing their path to a career at the Bar, a library and research facilities, a chapel and overnight accommodation. As one of the four institutions with the power to call someone to the Bar, you will have to join one of them before you start the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). So do you want to join the Gray’s Inn? You’ll have to think about it because membership in any of the Inns is for life. Although the four Inns share many similarities – long histories, beautiful gardens and impressive architecture, they still have their differences. We will now examine a few aspects of Gray’s Inn 


Gray’s Inn known as the smallest of the four Inns – Middle Temple is the other – to a certain extent has traced its beginnings to 1388. We say to a certain extent because just like the other Inns, Gray’s Inn has not been able to establish the precise date of her establishment because there’s no proven documentation of the year of foundation. Gray’s Inn records do not commence until 1569. Though some of the Inns have later charters, none of the Inns was founded by charter, ordinance or endowment and there is no extant record of a first lease. The earliest known definite reference to the existence of the Inn occurs in 1388 when it is recorded that two of its members were called Serjeants-at-law. It has also been suggested that the earliest known reference to the existence of the Inn as lodging for lawyers appears to be in 1370 when it is referred to as a “hospitium”(a hostel). Through diligent research, Gray’s Inn states that the first habitation known to have been on or close to the site of the present Hall was the Manor House of the ancient Manor of Purpoole (also Portpoole), meaning “the market by the lake”. The market was the cattle market, the present site of the Prudential Insurance Building in Holborn. The Manor House was the property of Sir Reginald de Grey, Chief Justice of Chester, Constable and Sheriff of Nottingham, who died in 1308. 

During the sixteenth century, Gray’s Inn along with the other Inns of Court prospered greatly. Not only were the judges closely connected with the Inns, but the prosperity of the Inns had attracted the support of the statesmen of the day. If you have read English history you might have come across a certain Edmund Dudley, a financial agent and adviser to Henry VII, who was beheaded on the orders of Henry VIII in the first year of his reign. He was a fellow of Gray’s Inn. Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s persecutor of the old religious order, was also a member of Gray’s Inn and suffered the same fate as Edmund Dudley for his excessive zeal later in the King’s reign. As the sixteenth century advanced, prosperity attracted a broader culture to the Inns; this century has been tagged as the Inn’s “Golden Age”. Queen Elizabeth was the Inn’s Patron Lady; Lord Burleigh, the Queen’s First Minister, Lord Howard of Effingham, the Admiral who defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, and Sir Francis Walsingham, the Chief Secretary who founded the Queen’s secret service, were all members of the Inn. William Shakespeare even played in Gray’s Inn Hall in 1594. 

Between 1680 and 1687 there were three disastrous fires at the Inn. That of 1684 was particularly grievous for it burnt the Library, which was then on the present site of No 1 Gray’s Inn Square, and that is probably when the Inn’s ancient records were lost. After partaking in a series of upheavals, Gray’s Inn has led the way in making sure that students aspiring to be barristers receive a comprehensive legal education and has done its best in ensuring uniformity of practice of Call to the Bar. Today, Gray’s Inn has led the way in introducing mock trials and advocacy training before the judges and senior practitioners of the Inn in addition to students’ moots and debates. This training is now compulsory for all pupils.

Education & Training 

The Inn among other good things going for it concentrates on supporting, educating and developing its student members and making provision for the continuing professional development of its barrister members as per its historic traditions. Gray’s Inn promotes the values of the rule of law, access to justice, equality, diversity and inclusion within the community, as well as a vision of a modern, independent and internationally active Bar. The Inn has a pastoral responsibility to its members and seeks to be a source of wisdom and support when needed. With an active membership of around 5,500, including around 300 student members at any one time, the Inn says that it is run by its members for their members. Everything they do is inspired and implemented by their people and is designed to champion and nurture each individual’s unique talents and interests. This position has led to Gray’s Inn authoritatively stating that Gray’s Inn is its Members. 

For students, the Inn provides mentoring schemes and court marshalling opportunities, as well as original qualifying sessions, practical careers advice and mock interview practice. Some of the opportunities include Vocalise and Griffin LAW Mentor training. For established barristers, the Inn runs courses, lectures, debates and conferences to craft skills and knowledge as part of Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

Scholarships & Prizes

All four of the Inns have significant scholarship funds but Gray’s Inn believes that theirs is the biggest of the lot, and this appears to be the truth. Take, for example, the GDL, depending on your chosen institution, GDL fees range between £5000 and £12,000, with the average for a full-time GDL course being approximately £8400. Gray’s Inn’s scholarships for the GDL can cover the whole fees as sometimes their scholarships get up to £12,000. For those students interested in the BPTC, Gray’s Inn is an excellent choice because of its scholarship cover. By now you should be aware that though BPTC fees vary depending on the institution, they are all expensive. For example, The University of Law will charge you £18,735 for the full-time BPTC at its London Bloomsbury campus. While the Nottingham Law School, at Nottingham Trent University, will set you back by £15,200 for its full-time BPTC. The Gray’s Inn BPTC scholarships are excellent as they start from £5,000 and can increase up to £30,000. The Inn says that it expects to keep this stat going in 2022 as they expect to award 75 to 85 Bar Course scholarships which start at £5,000 and can increase up to £30,000 when factoring in a Residential Scholarships. In 2020, their average award for Bar Course scholars was approximately 80% of course fees for the majority of Bar Course providers with the possibility of an additional Residential Scholarship being awarded.

Arguably the depth and range of Gray’s Inn scholarship are what separates it from the rest; because rather than awarding a large number of smaller amounts that leave students with the greatest financial need still needing to find many thousands of pounds, each major Gray’s scholarship is big enough to make a genuine difference to its recipients.  What Gray’s Inn does is that for any of its student members that have what it takes, their scholarship team will do everything in their power to make the member’s dream of becoming a barrister a reality. The Inn understands that the costs of training are high, and that is why they will award over £1.3 million in scholarships this year. The process for applying for all of the Inn’s major scholarships is largely the same. Applications for all major scholarships can be made online. The Inn does not interview all applicants. Following the application deadline, a shortlist will be drawn and candidates will be informed whether or not they have been selected for an interview. All their scholarships are awarded based on merit alone. The merit criteria which is taken into account include academic ability, the ability to succeed as a barrister as demonstrated by performance in school and university examinations, and other experiences in an academic setting. The second criterion is problem-solving; do you have the ability to apply lateral and original thinking to solve problems and work with complex information to extract key information and facts to develop an argument. Thirdly, drive and determination, being able to display the drive, determination and a strong work ethic to overcome adversity or achieve goals, whilst remaining calm when under pressure. Fourthly, advocacy, can you develop well structured, succinct, grammatically correct, and persuasively written argument. Fifthly, the motivation to succeed, can you demonstrate a clear interest in the Bar and the ambition to become a barrister. Once scholarships are made, additional scholarship funding is awarded based on financial need. 


Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)


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