The 2019/20 academic year started just like any other. A new intake of BPTC students eagerly flocked to the Inn
to attend their introductory Qualifying Sessions (QS) and elect the Middle Temple Students’ Association (MTSA) committee for the year. We allocated sponsors to any student who requested one and distributed the cheques that would help our scholars pay for the Bar Course. As in the previous year, the Inn continues to have the largest share of all the students studying for the Bar. We had to hold four Call ceremonies in November to accommodate 234 students from the previous intake who were eligible to be Called. This was in addition to 266 and 59 who had already been Called in July and October 2019 respectively. Before we knew it, December was upon us and with it the Cumberland Lodge advocacy weekend, the mooting competition introductory session, Christmas parties and then a well-earned break.
2020 began with the sad news that, after working at the Inn for over 17 years, Sarah Hankinson would be retiring.
When we left the Ashley Building towards the end of March, we did not really have any idea what the next few months would hold. We trickled out one by one, wanting to avoid the crowded trains at rush hour, not sure if we should hug our co-workers goodbye. As I am sure was the case for everyone else whose offices had suddenly moved to their kitchen tables, our first virtual team meetings were slightly hesitant and often interrupted by rogue pets. Our first discussions about how we would move the majority of our work to the digital realm were optimistic but slightly overwhelming. ‘Well, we will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it’ was a common, determinedly calm refrain.
We are writing this in early June, more than two months since we were last in the Treasury Office. We are proud to report that as a department we have adapted quickly to this new way of working and achieved things that, at the beginning of the year, had never even crossed our minds. Our Outreach Officer has spoken to prospective students around the globe, over 300 scholarship interviews have been held remotely via video-link, and our Advocacy Weekends, New Practitioners’ Programme, Pupils’ Courses, Vulnerable Witness Training and the Rosamund Smith Mooting Competition have all moved online. We are also well on the way to organising enough online QS to provide the 2,500 individual points that we estimate are needed by those on the Bar Course this year. That we have done so is a testament to both the hard work of the Education team, and the enthusiasm, patience and generosity of our students, Hall members and Benchers. Not to mention all participants’ unfailing good humour when microphones, cameras, and other technology simply refuse to co- operate!
We have done our very best to replicate the collegiate and collaborative atmosphere that makes the Inn vital to our students’ development. However, nothing can wholly make up for real face-to-face contact and opportunities to socialise with other members of the Inn. The unexpected challenges we have faced in transitioning to the current ‘normal’ have introduced us to new ways of working and there will undoubtedly be valuable lessons to take away from this time. But are we looking at an entirely digital Inn in the future? Far from it.
We considered writing something to try to express, however insufficiently, the mark Sarah has left on the Education department and on the Inn as a whole. Then we remembered that she hates fuss (always taking the day off on her birthday so we could not gather at her desk for the obligatory singing) so we abandoned that idea.
If we had written something we would have talked about Sarah’s kindness and her sense of humour. We would have remembered her beautiful homemade Easter cards, her flair for seasonal office decorations, and the ‘Welsh cakes (from Wales)’ that she brought in for us. We might have recalled her love of puzzles, her astonishing ability with accents, and the fascinating stories she would innocently drop into conversation. We would have mentioned that during one team member’s first week, Sarah very kindly took her to Evensong at the Church and introduced her to what felt like everyone involved in Temple Music – this is another group of people who will miss her greatly. We might have alluded to her unforgettable coinings – the embosser used to stamp Call certificates, known colloquially as the ‘kathunger’, and the semi-mythical figure of a hypothetical student called Charlie Farsbar, to be regarded with fondness and pity and endless patience. ’I’ll send an “e”’ she would say cheerfully, heading off to wrestle
with another fiendishly complicated Specially Qualified Applicant application. We would note, incidentally, that we cannot count the students who made a beeline for her at their Call Day to say thank you for all her help, nor those who told us they joined Middle Temple because they went on a guided tour with Sarah before admission. At Call and the Garden Party, we might have observed, Sarah would insist that she wanted to man the merchandise stall or the ticket desk, claiming she was not good at mingling. She would then happily spend the entire evening chatting at length to numerous students, members and guests. Finally, we would perhaps have closed by asking her to forgive us for writing anything but pleading that we could not help ourselves – we will all miss her so very much.