This guest blog by Lucy Garrett KC and Sarah Williams sets out one possible intervention, intended to increase social mobility and access to the Bar by underrepresented groups, which other chambers may wish to consider.

In July 2023, the Bar Council held the first Bar Social Mobility Summit. One of the takeaways was to share learning between chambers so that we can better understand what works. The cost of qualifying as a barrister, and awareness of sources of available funding, is a major barrier to the profession.

In September 2022, Keating Chambers and Gray’s Inn announced the launch of a new social mobility scholarship, worth £15,000. The scholarship is funded by Keating and is to be awarded through the Gray’s Inn Scholarship Programme. It is designed to support Bar Course students from backgrounds under-represented at the Bar. Keating also offered a mini-pupillage in chambers and ongoing mentoring to the successful applicant.

Candidates for scholarship were required to meet the Gray’s Inn merit criteria, express an interest in commercial law and to meet one or more of the social mobility criteria (these included being the first generation of their family to go to university, being eligible for free school meals, or them or their immediate family being/having been a refugee or asylum seeker).

In May 2023, Omar Jassam became the first Keating Scholar. Omar was born in Baghdad, Iraq and came to the UK with his family aged 9 and a non-English speaker. He went on to work in construction, then took a Master’s Degree in Construction at King’s College and moved into legal-related expert witness work. He then decided to come to the Bar and has now completed the GDL.

Omar excelled throughout the scholarship process, demonstrating considerable potential to practice at the Bar. The Gray’s Inn interview panel were impressed by Omar’s aptitude for problem solving and the drive he has exhibited in both his academic and professional life to date, underpinned by an impressive advocacy performance.

In his own words, Omar has said: "I am all too aware of how exceptionally competitive a career at the Bar is, as well as the significant cost and time required to pursue such it. Receiving the scholarship has therefore given me a much-needed boost of confidence that assures me I have the potential to succeed in such a competitive career, whilst also making it realistic to pursue such a path from a financial perspective.

"Without this scholarship, it may not have been feasible for me to continue pursuing my ambition of becoming a barrister. For that I am endlessly grateful to Keating Chambers for this wonderful initiative, not only giving me this opportunity but for all future candidates from similar circumstances who may equally receive such wonderful and much needed support to enable them to equally pursue a career at the Bar."

Gray’s will award the second Keating Scholarship in this year’s Scholarship Programme, launching now.

We were delighted to meet Omar in Chambers earlier this year and are looking forward to meeting future Scholars.

From a practical perspective, there are significant advantages to sets of chambers partnering with the Inns in this way. These include: (1) available scholarships can be found in one place without trawling individual chambers’ websites – it is very important that support measures are actually identifiable by and accessible to candidates; (2) chambers can take advantage of the Inns’ existing selection processes both in the sense of identifying meritorious candidates and in the sense of reducing the administrative burden on chambers; (3) the joint marketing of such scholarships means a wider reach and (4) the Inns and chambers are giving a consistent message to candidates that a fairer and more diverse Bar is important and actively supported: it is clear that this message itself can act as an agent of change.

Gray’s Inn and Keating are both delighted at the success of our inaugural Scholarship and hope to be assisting excellent candidates, who may not otherwise have been able to fund the academic stage, for a long time to come.

Lucy Garrett KC and Sarah Williams are both barristers at Keating Chambers and long-standing members of the Pupillage Committee. In their capacity on the committee they were responsible for developing this initiative with Gray’s Inn.

The picture includes Omar Jassam - the first Keating Scholar, Alexander Nissen KC (Head of Chambers), Lucy Garrett (Head of Pupillage) and Tom Owen (Omar’s mentor under the scheme).