To practice law in Great Britain as a barrister, an individual must belong to one of the four existing Inns of Court, volunteer organizations charged with calling candidates to the bar after they have completed their studies. In addition to serving as sources of education and support for barristers and law students, the Inns of Court provide common areas and gardens for their use. The Inns sponsor scholarships and other forms of financial assistance. In addition, they provide a degree of professional oversight by maintaining disciplinary tribunals to handle charges brought against barristers during the course of their work.
All four of the Inns of Court are situated in London near its boundary with the City of Westminster and close to the Royal Courts of Justice. The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn is perhaps the one most known to outsiders. Since the reign of King Edward III during the medieval period, students learned law near the present site of Gray’s Inn. The name derives from that of the De Gray family, whose many connections within the legal profession led to a number of lawyers taking up residence in the family’s manor house and surrounding area. The site received heavy damage from bombing during the Second World War and was restored in the post-war period.
The precincts of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn managed to survive the war with little damage. The Inn’s buildings reflect the variety of architectural styles that developed over centuries. The medieval Hall and Gateway access Chancery Lane, New Square presents a 17th-century façade next to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and the Gothic-style Great Hall and Library hail from the Victorian era.
The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple and the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple complete the group of the four Inns of Court. Both derive their names from the London headquarters of the Knights Templar.