It’s go for students in Gray’s monopoly

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May 18, 2017
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Gray's Inn is enticing recruits with exclusive clubs, and the fact that only members of an Inn can start the bar professional training course

Ben Gurr for The Times

Gray’s Inn took to social media yesterday to remind keen prospective barristers that the clock is ticking. The deadline for joining one of the four Inns of Court is May 31, in advance of the next academic year.

Gray’s helpfully tweeted a link to its “joining” page on the interconnectwebthingy, as they refer to it at the Bar. This waxes on about the benefits of membership, which include discounted lunches in hall for students and pupils, and the possibility of joining a group of clubs and societies, ranging, in Gray’s case, from a choir, to golf, to something every student will find handy, yachting.

Perhaps more enticingly for student members, Gray’s points out that membership entitles them to use of the Bridge Bar, while less enticingly (or is Blue Bag just thinking of its own time as a student?) membership also affords access to the Inn’s library.

But the most important benefit of membership? “Remember,” Gray’s gently reminds students, “you must be a member of an Inn before you can start the bar professional training course”. Perhaps an enterprising law student should consider a referral to the Competition and Markets Authority.

Magicians’ last act

Commentators have been forecasting for some time the death of either the Bar or the “magic circle” the five (or four, read on) elite law firms in the City of London.

The Bar is on the way out, so the argument runs, because successive governments have legislated over the last 25 years effectively to fuse the legal profession; and the magic circle as a term is arguably meaningless because they are no longer the biggest firms by several criteria.

Now a well-respected observer of the legal profession has produced a fresh theory just to keep debate rolling on. The magic circle is indeed on the verge of resembling Monty Python’s parrot, says Mark Brandon, a legal profession consultant, and its demise is being hastened by the success of the top end of the commercial Bar.

In a blog Brandon argues that “the combined effect of being comprehensively and continually out-pointed on money by US firms, and the subtraction of talent and revenue from the UK’s law firms due to the continued existence of the Bar is … a toxic cocktail for UK law”.

But what is the magic circle, anyway? The myth runs that The Lawyer magazine cooked up the term for the London elite as a marketing gambit when the publication launched 30 years ago. The original team sheet included Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields (as was), Linklaters and Slaughter and May. About eight years ago, The Lawyer unceremoniously dumped Slaughter and May on the grounds that in global revenue terms and headcount, it looked like a high street practice compared to the others.

About five years ago, Legal Business magazine granted the wish of Herbert Smith Freehills and moved the newly merged firm into its own version of the circle. But according to one source, the publication plays down that promotion now that the firm has experienced “merger integration” issues.

Still, the magic circle will continue to exist in the minds of specialist journalists for some time yet – and those at the firms themselves for much longer.

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