The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) has changed the way that lawyers qualify. Transitional arrangements mean that the traditional Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) route is still available, although some institutions have phased this out in favour of new courses
Changes to qualifying as a lawyer
- Aspiring solicitors now need to study for the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which will eventually replace the GDL and Legal Practice Course (LPC).
- Transitional arrangements are in place. Those who started a law degree, GDL or LPC before September 2021 will be able to qualify via the traditional route until December 2032.
- This change to qualification ensures that all new solicitors are educated and assessed to the same standard.
This Prospects webinar aired August 2021
What is the GDL?
The GDL is a law conversion course, which puts non-law graduates on an equal footing with those who studied a law degree. While the introduction of the SQE has changed the way that solicitors qualify in England and Wales, many institutions will continue to run GDL courses during the transitional period.
The process to convert to law in Scotland is different and the equivalent of a GDL is the Graduate Entry LLB/Accelerated LLB, which takes two years. Find out more about training to be a solicitor in Scotland.
What does the GDL involve?
In addition to providing non-law students with a basic foundation in legal theory, there are seven core modules covered on the course. These are:
- contract law
- criminal law
- equity and trusts
- European Union (EU) law
- land law
- public law
- tort law.
You'll also have to study an eighth subject, which may be determined by the institution or a free choice from a set list. This could include:
- directors' duties
- immigration law
- legal ethics
- patent law
To find a conversion course, search for GDL courses.
How long does the GDL take?
The course fits approximately 18 months' worth of content from a three-year law degree into one-year full time or two years part time.
Each week you'll have around 45 hours of lectures, tutorials, and self-study culminating in a three-hour final exam on each subject.
How do I apply?
Students apply in the final year of their undergraduate degree. All applications for full-time places are made through the Central Applications Board (CAB), while part-time applications go directly to course providers. Search for part-time law conversion courses.
You need to submit your application as early as you can in the autumn term as there is no closing date and applications are dealt with as they are submitted. This means that the later you apply the more flexible you will have to be about where you study.
There is a registration fee of £15 for submitted applications.
How much does the GDL cost?
Fees vary depending on where you choose to study.
For example, City, University of London charges £12,320 for its full-time GDL, while the University of Central Lancashire charges £8,500.
Some courses expect you to pay a deposit when you accept your place and then you need to arrange how to pay the remainder of your fees.
Is funding available?
Some law firm's sponsor their future trainees' studies and this will mean looking at the law firms that recruit two years in advance.
Students intending to pursue a career at the Bar can apply for scholarships from the Inns of Court.
Some law schools also provide scholarships. For example, BPP offers four postgraduate law scholarships, including the Career Commitment Scholarship worth up to £2,000 and three other full-fee awards. The University of Law also offer a variety of postgraduate law scholarships including the Business and Law First Scholarship worth £5,000, the Choose Law Scholarship, which includes full-fee awards and the Career Changer Scholarship.
You need to check with an individual institution to see what it offers.
Discover more about funding postgraduate study.
What about new law conversion courses?
Under the new qualification route non-law graduates don't have to study a law conversion course (or SQE preparation course) to sit the SQE. The only academic requirement to sit the new exam is to hold a university degree in any subject. It's perfectly possible to take the SQE without ever having studied law, although we wouldn't advise it.
The best chance non-law students have of passing the SQE is to take a stand-alone law conversion course and then an SQE preparation course, or take a conversion course that incorporates SQE preparation into the programme.
While some organisations and institutions continue to provide the GDL, others have replaced theirs with newly-designed conversion courses such as the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL or PGDip), MA Law (conversion) and Law conversion LLM. Providers title their courses differently, so you’ll need to do your research.
- The University of Law (ULaw) and Nottingham Trent University (NTU) have both replaced their GDLs with a Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL) and (PGDip) respectively. Aimed at non-law graduates, a PGDL is an all-round general conversion course perfect for those who have yet to decide between a career as a solicitor or barrister. Taking one year to study full time and two part time, fees at ULaw cost £12,550 (London) and £10,100 (outside London). NTU charge £9,100.
- BPP University offer a Law Foundations Course from non-law graduates that takes eight months to complete full time. Completion of the course results in a PGDL.
- The University of Sussex runs an MA Law, giving non-law students the chance to gain a Masters while getting up to speed on legal concepts. The course costs £9,500. Similarly, ULaw provides the MA Law (Conversion). A Law Conversion LLM is also available at the University of Brighton, taking one-year full time and costing £9,700.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list but similar to the GDL these courses provide general legal qualifications, covering a broad subject matter and preparing both aspiring solicitors and barristers for their next steps. As well as these overarching qualifications, institutions have also begun to provide conversion courses that incorporate SQE preparation, such as the MA Law (SQE1) run by ULaw.
For more information on specific SQE preparation courses see our Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) page.