The first ever Dean of an Inn of Court speaks to The Barrister about the need for lifelong learning at the Bar

 Professor Cheryl Thomas QC has been appointed the first Dean of an Inn of Court in 700 years. She is the country’s leading expert on courts, judges and juries, and is based at UCL’s Faculty of Laws, where she holds the first ever Chair in Judicial Studies in the UK at UCL and is also Director of the UCL Jury Project and UCL Judicial Institute.  Here she outlines for The Barrister what this unprecedented role will entail.

I was absolutely delighted and honoured to be appointed Dean of Education at the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple earlier this year. The decision to appoint a Dean for the first time in the Inns of Court’s almost 700-year history reflects Inner Temple’s forward-looking approach to life at the Bar in the 21st century and its determination to drive innovation in professional development at the Bar.

In my role as Dean I will advise and assist the Inner Temple in developing a bespoke programme for its established barristers and in increasing the Inn’s engagement with the public and academia.  As Dean I have four main objectives: (1) developing a lifelong learning programme for established barristers; (2) improving public understanding of the role of barristers and the Inn; (3) deepening the Inn’s connections with academic experts; and (4) assisting with the implementation of major changes in the education and training of new barristers.  During my tenure as Dean of Inner Temple, I will continue in my post at UCL, dividing my time evenly between the two institutions.

New programme for established barristers

One of my first projects as Dean will be to create a lifelong learning programme for the Inn’s established barristers. For most members of an Inn of Court, their Inn played an important role in their professional development as barristers at the start of their career, and at Inner Temple there is an outstanding and extensive programme of education and training for students, pupils and new practitioners in their first 3 years of practice.  But the vast majority of Inn members are established barristers at more advanced stages in their careers, and many of these members will no longer see their Inn as relevant to their current practice in the same way they did when they were starting out.

Education and training at the Inn should be made available in every phase of a barrister’s career, in order to build knowledge, develop advocacy expertise and support the presentation of the profession to the public.  So as Dean, one of my main priorities will be to help Inner Temple develop new, bespoke and innovative programmes to attract more experienced barristers back to the Inn.  The aim is to create a more modern and progressive role for Inner Temple as a professional body for all its barristers and to ensure that the inn provides ever more useful training to members throughout their career, helping to ensure that the profession is equipped to meet the demands of the future.

Understanding barristers’ working lives

To do this the first thing we need to do at Inner Temple is to better understand what the working lives of established barrister members are like today and how the Inn can better meet their needs.  This includes the employed as well as the self-employed bar and those on circuit out of London as well as London-based practitioners.  In January 2020, the Inn will take a major step towards achieving this objective when we launch the first ever Established Barrister Survey.  This will help us better understand the needs of Inner Temple members who are now established in practice beyond the new practitioner stage.  And in turn this will provide the information the Inn needs to develop programmes to bring the best out of every barrister and create a cadre of high-performing barristers who will raise standards at all levels of the profession.

I am fortunate to already have experience running such a survey for experienced legal professionals.  Since 2014 I have been responsible for the UK Judicial Attitude Survey, which I conduct regularly on behalf of the judiciaries of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland so that they can better understand the working lives and needs of judges in the courts and tribunals across the UK.  I have also been involved for many years in the training and education of judges and lawyers in the UK and abroad.

Forging stronger links with the public and academia

As Dean I will also be helping the Inn to forge stronger links between the Bar and academia and to raise wider public awareness of the crucial role the Bar plays in ensuring the rule of law.

The UK research community is home to some of the world’s leading thinkers in many different areas, from the neuroscience of memory to how artificial intelligence may affect the work of lawyers, from cutting edge developments in medicine affecting end of life decisions to forensic science and the intricacies of Article 50. This knowledge can be of great benefit to members of the Bar, who need to stay ahead of the curve and incorporate the latest ideas and thinking from research into their legal work.  My appointment as Dean provides an opportunity to exchange knowledge and practice in law between the bar and academia for the benefit of wider society.

My aim is to strengthen the Inn’s relationships with research leaders across the UK to the benefit of all members of the Inn including those on circuit outside of London and at the employed bar.  The partnership between Inner Temple and UCL will also help facilitate the introduction of new learning technologies for the Inn’s education and training activities and the Inn’s implementation of new training and assessment requirements introduced by the Bar Standards Board.

Alongside this work with the research and academic community, I will also be developing a public education project designed to better engage the public with what barristers do, what an Inn of Court does and how crucial work at the Bar is to the rule of law.   This is an area that overlaps directly with my own research and professional background.  My academic career has focused on law in practice, and my research is deeply rooted in understanding how the law works and how to make the law work better to deliver justice to all members of society.  My work on jury decision-making in the criminal courts has often tackled sensitive and controversial issues about juries for the first time in this country and it has led to the development of innovative educational tools for the public to use in courts.  I also have a background in film and documentary making and this could come in helpful in trying to explain the often mysterious world of the Bar to the wider public it serves.

As a Bencher of Inner Temple since 2012, I have a strong understanding of the existing work of Inner Temple, the Bar and the Inns of Court. I’ve been fortunate to have worked closely already with Inner Temple for many years as a member of the Education and Training Committee and most recently to have helped with a major redevelopment of Inner Temple’s ethics training for new practitioners.  My appointment reflects Inner Temple’s progressive approach and commitment to being a leader in life-long learning at the Bar.

Professor Cheryl Thomas QC: deanofeducation@innertemple.org.uk

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