Path to Conversion
You are studying something other than law at university – but that doesn’t mean you can’t become a lawyer. Taking the Graduate Diploma in Law will open your pathway to a career in the legal profession, as Real World finds out
If you are a non-law undergraduate and want to pursue a career as a solicitor or barrister, then you will need to undertake the law conversion course known as the graduate diploma in law (GDL) – which is also referred to as the common professional exam (CPE). Upon completion of the GDL, you will then need to take either the legal practice course, if you wish to become a solicitor, or the bar vocational course, if your goal is a career as a barrister. (For more information about both these courses, see our "Back to school" feature).
Numerous institutions offer the GDL, from Anglia Ruskin University to the University of Wolverhampton. (For a complete list of where you can study for the GDL, visit the Law Society’s website: www.lawsociety.org.uk.) The largest of all the course providers are the College of Law and BPP Professional Education, both of which have institutions in London and in various other cities across the country.
The cost of tuition varies enormously, and can range from £2,000 to more than £7,000 a year. Check carefully with institutions to see what the fees include, as some cover course materials while others do not.
Wherever you decide to study for the GDL, the content of the course will be more or less the same, as you will have to cover the "foundations of legal knowledge" stipulated by the Law Society.The couse will cover the essential elements of academic knowledge that you will need if you want to go onto to complete the LPC or BVC, including:
- Law of contract
- Law of tort
- Criminal law
- Equity and the law of trusts
- Land law
- Public law
- EU law
Study options for the GDL are flexible. Students can either elect to study it full-time over a year, or they can complete over a period of up to three years during the evenings or over weekends. Full-time GDL courses last at least 36 weeks, and involve at least 32 weeks’ tuition. The notional study time for the course is 1,620 hours in total or 45 hours in each week – of lectures, tutorials, private study and research.
If you do decide to study full-time, make sure you can support yourself financially. Many students choose to take on part-time work, but working too many hours will get in the way of your studies. If finances are a concern, consider living with your parents or family as a way of mitigating costs.
Be warned: studying for the GDL can be very different from undergraduate study. It is intense, and involves learning lots of legal definitions and case names.
One former GDL student tells us: "Studying the GDL came as quite a shock to me. Having studied English at Cambridge I was prepared for hard work, but this was different. There was lots of rote learning, and we weren’t really given the opportunity to question what we were taught."
However, Tabassum Sheikh, who studied business economics at Manchester Metropolitan University, speaks highly of the GDL, although she admits it isn’t all plain sailing: "You have to be extremely motivated, as it’s a lot of hard work," she says. "But you get out what you put in."
The GDL is regulated by the Law Society, and admissions for full-time courses are handled through the Central Applications Board (www.lawcabs.ac.uk). The closing date for full-time courses is usually the beginning of February.
You will be required to fill out an application form. As well as requesting your qualifications, this will ask you:
- reasons for choosing law
- previous experience
Also, if you have some general attainments – not necessarily academic – to which you wish to draw attention, you are asked to set them out. However, you are advised not to repeat matters included elsewhere on the form.
For part-time courses, you should apply directly to the relevant institution – the Law Society’s website has complete details of contacts.
A GDL qualification will remain valid for a period of seven years only. The Law Society says: "Afterwards, it will be considered ‘stale’ for the purposes of qualifying as a solicitor." Once this time has elapsed, you will have to retake the GDL.
GDL – Leeds Metropolitan University
Degree: Business economics, 2.2, Manchester Metropolitan University
Tabassum is studying for a graduate diploma in law (GDL) at Leeds Metropolitan University. She decided to undertake the GDL because she has been interested in law since she was at high school. Previously, she chose to do a degree in business economics, having studied economics as part of her international baccalaureate.
How does the GDL differ from undergraduate study?
Basically, it’s much more intense. There is more work to do, because you complete it in a year of full-time study. There is a lot more reading, for example. You are fitting in a lot of work into one year, whereas at undergraduate level you’ve got three years.
Are you enjoying it?
And what do you like most about it? I’m absolutely loving it. The subjects themselves are interesting to study. The classes are very interactive, and I enjoy that about the course. The level of teaching at Leeds Met is excellent. The class sizes are quite small, and the teachers get to know who you are. In terms of the work itself, you have seven standard modules set by the Law Society. You also have to complete a project of 5,000 words. You pick a research area, and then you are assigned a tutor who looks over your work.
How do you manage your workload?
We have a total of seven modules. In one week we will cover four modules in seminars,
then in the next week we will cover the other three. Lectures are spread over two days. On Wednesday and Thursdays we have seminars, and then we have Fridays off. I try to get my seminar work done over the weekend.
How are you funding your study?
I have financial support from my family.
What are your plans after the GDL?
I am going to be doing the LPC, and then hopefully I will get a training contract to start in 2009.
What advice do you have for students considering the GDL?
Some people on my course do part-time jobs. But I think I would find it hard to balance a part-time job and full-time study – it would be too much to cram in.