Christa Richmond is responsible for the Inn’s Education Department. A graduate of Stuttgart University, Christa taught German at Bristol University for a number of years before working for Cumberland Lodge as a Conference Co-ordinator. She first joined the Middle Temple to work with Michael Sherrard when he established the Inn’s advocacy training programme, and she became Head of Department in 2002.
At a residential weekend earlier this year, I found myself holding forth to the Treasurer about what I thought the role of the Inn was in the area of education and training. As I was trying to put my understanding of our purpose into words, I realised that I had never done that before, even though that purpose informs the work of our whole team. High time, therefore, to explain.
The Inn is a community of practitioners whose members share the values and ethos of the profession. Incorporated in the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) regulations, these values include a duty to the court and to the client, a thorough knowledge and understanding of the law, and competence in advocacy to a very high standard. But values do not come to life in the abstract. Students and other new entrants to the profession will not automatically absorb them by studying the Code of Conduct.
The ethos of the profession, characterised by collegiality, integrity, respect, and diligence, will best be internalised by exposure to those who live and work by it. Ethos is not instilled by regulation, but by interaction with members of the profession to whom it is second nature. Students need to feel part of a professional body with a particular set of standards from the very beginning as an integral part of their training for the Bar. Once in practice, barristers’ approach to their work will continue to be informed by interaction with their peers. Their customary reference to colleagues as ‘my learned friend’ in court is an expression of this respect for their peer group.
How do we set about making students become and remain part of this professional body? We do it by providing the best possible education and training opportunities at all stages of members’ careers. The compulsory elements of training consist of Qualifying Sessions (QS – formerly known as dinners) for students, followed by post-Call training, which provides courses on advocacy and ethics for Pupils and New Practitioners, and later, by Continuing Professional Development more generally.
QS illustrate the role of the Inn particularly well in that they lay the foundations for the relationship between members and the Inn, but also between members among each other. The Inns have recently formalised, in a Memorandum of Understanding with the BSB which was adopted in March 2019, that the following areas should be covered in QS:
- Ethics, Standards and Values;
- Advocacy Skills;
- Legal Knowledge, Justice and the Rule of Law;
- Equality, Diversity and Inclusion;
- Preparation for Pupillage, Career Development and Wellbeing.
The language of regulation makes it inevitable that those elements are listed individually. In reality, most QS will touch on more than one, occasionally even all of those elements which make up professional experience, shared with students by the barristers and judges who provide the QS.
The best educational events provide not only a ‘recordable’ educational element, but interaction with senior members of the Inn. Residential weekends are the most impressive example, but there are many other events which provide a high degree of interaction. I am thinking here of All Inn Dining, especially in its new format with smaller numbers of participants and a focus on particular areas of law, or the Sherrard Conversations.
Broadly speaking, it could be said that the Bar Course provides the knowledge, skills and attributes which are assessed as the vocational component of training for the Bar; the Inns provide the introduction into the professional community. By the time a student is Called to the Bar, we hope that he or she will truly regard the Inn as Domus, their professional home.