You don’t need a degree in law to become a lawyer. Studying law at undergraduate level can be a great foundation for your career, however, law conversion courses, such as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), are just as well regarded. Legal firms recognise that many of the essential skills for being a successful lawyer, such as research, analysis, written and oral communication, and presentation skills, can be learned through many degree courses. Taking the GDL route should not put you at a disadvantage to LLB students.
The GDL is a compulsory year-long (when taken full-time) course for all graduates who want to become solicitors or barristers but didn’t complete a qualifying LLB degree. The GDL is designed to put non-law graduates on equal footing with those who have a law degree and prepare them for the next stage of their legal education. Also known as the Common Professional Exam (CPE), the course covers essential content from a law degree in a much shorter period of time. This means that the full-time course can be quite intense, however, it allows you to catch-up with LLB students in just one year.
Those who don’t wish to take the full-time course or can’t dedicate the required hours each week can take the course part-time over two years. There are also distance learning options available which usually take two years to complete.
Once a candidate has completed the GDL, they will be prepared for either the Legal Practice Course (LPC) if they wish to become a solicitor, or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) if they wish to become a barrister.
How to apply for the GDL
Before you apply for the GDL, you will need to hold a degree from a UK university or a recognised equivalent qualification from a foreign university. If you have alternative qualifications or experience, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) will determine whether these are equivalent to a degree.
You are also eligible to apply if you have a diploma in magisterial law. Chartered Legal Executives who are over the age of 25 are also qualified to apply.
All those who apply without a degree from a UK university will need to confirm their academic qualifications with the SRA.
If you are applying for a place on a full-time course, you should apply through the Central Application Board (CAB). You will be able to apply from September in the final year of your undergraduate degree. As applications are dealt with as they come in, you should apply as early as possible. If you are applying for a place on a part-time course, you should apply directly to the course provider.
Researching course providers before you submit your application is essential as the institution you choose could have an impact on the next stage of your legal education. The quality of tuition is naturally an important consideration and you should think about which courses will be most likely to help you to secure a place on an LPC or a BPTC. Research the academic reputation of each course, the facilities available, and any industry links each institution might have. Some course providers might even offer an automatic place on your next required course if you pass the GDL, so this sort of research will really pay off.
What you’ll study on the GDL
The GDL helps non-law graduates catch-up on LLB students by focussing on seven fundamental areas of legal knowledge:
- Contract law
- Criminal law
- Law of tort
- Property law
- EU law
- Constitutional and administrative law
- Equity and law of trusts
You may also be required to study an eighth topic which may be decided for you by your course provider, or you may be able to choose from several options. These could be more specialised topics, such as patent law or immigration law.
The exact course contents and examinations vary from institution to institution. In general, your studies will take up around 40-45 hours a week (full-time), including seminars, lectures, and personal study time. You will then have to pass a three-hour exam on each topic. If you perform better on coursework-style assessments, it might be worth choosing a course provider which allows a higher percentage of coursework to contribute to your final grade. This can usually be up to 30%.
Full-time students have up to three years to complete the GDL and pass all of the necessary exams. Part-time students have four years to complete the course. You won’t be able to attempt any paper more than three times.
How much does the GDL cost?
Fees for the GDL tend to vary between course providers and some charge as much as £11,000 to study full-time.
If you aspire to become a solicitor and have already managed to secure a training contract with a law firm, they may fund your GDL and LPC for you. Some may even offer a maintenance grant in addition to this. The Inns of Court may be able to offer funding in the form of scholarships to future barristers.
Where to study the GDL
The following list includes institutions and universities which offer the GDL:
- Birmingham City University
- Bournemouth University
- BPP Law School
- Cardiff University
- City, University of London
- De Montfort University
- Leeds Beckett University
- London Metropolitan University
- London South Bank University
- Manchester Metropolitan University
- Northumbria University
- Nottingham Trent University
- Oxford Brookes University
- Roehampton University
- Swansea University
- University of Brighton
- University of Central Lancashire
- University of Cumbria
- University of East Anglia
- University of Law
- University of Plymouth
- University of Sheffield
- University of Sussex
- University of the West of England
- University of Westminster
After the GDL
Once you have passed all the necessary exams and have completed the GDL, you will need to move onto the next stage in your legal education before you can qualify as a lawyer. To become a solicitor, you will need to move onto the LPC and complete a two-year training contract. To become a barrister, the next stage is the BPTC before you start a pupillage.
It is worth noting that the rules are different in Scotland. Read our article to find out about qualifying as a lawyer in Scotland.
There are some changes which will be introduced as soon as 2020. The Solicitors Qualifying Exam is the new qualifying route proposed by the SRA and will make significant changes to the current system.