If you studied a non-law degree but wish to become a lawyer, you must take a conversion course known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Some institutions refer to it as the Common Professional Exam, but this is the old name and the terms are now used interchangeably.
The GDL is a one-year, full-time course designed to provide non-law graduates with a diploma equivalent to a law degree. It forms the common basis for non-law graduate entry to both the solicitors' and barristers' professions. Indeed, without a law degree or the GDL you cannot become a lawyer (unless you take the non-graduate route). The course can also be taken over two years either part time or by distance learning.
To be eligible for the GDL, students must hold a degree (other than an honorary degree) from a UK institution or a foreign institution which the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) considers to be an equivalent. Alternatively, a student can hold academic and vocational qualifications which the SRA deems equivalent to a degree. Another entry method is for the prospective student to be over 25 and a fellow or member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (see our CILEx page), or have gained a diploma in magisterial law. UK graduates do not need a certificate of academic standing to commence the GDL. However, overseas graduates, legal executives, those with professional qualifications equivalent to a degree and those with a diploma in magisterial law will need to write to the SRA with copies of their qualifications. Contact the SRA (0870 606 2555, http://www.sra.org.uk/contact-us/ or firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm precisely what it requires to issue the certificate.
And note that whichever way you get on the course, the GDL is an intensive, demanding programme.
What you learn
In effect, the GDL replaces the law degree. Its content focuses on the seven foundations of legal knowledge that represent the basic knowledge requirements for the LPC. These are:
- equity and trusts;
- property; and
The GDL is set internally by the individual institution. For full-time students, the final examination will normally comprise a three-hour paper in each of the seven core areas. All papers will usually need to be passed on the same occasion. Although you have up to three years to complete the GDL, you will not be allowed to attempt any paper more than three times. Part-time and distance-learning GDL students must attend a recognised course which lasts two years. Exams in four foundation subjects must be passed in the first year and the remaining three areas in the second year. Part-time and distance-learning students must complete the GDL course in no more than four years. All students successfully completing the GDL will be awarded a diploma in law.
Where to study
The GDL is only the first stepping stone on the way to becoming a lawyer for non-law graduates. The overriding criteria for choosing where to do the GDL should therefore be the quality of the tuition and the subsequent impact on the likelihood of getting a place on an LPC. Some institutions may even guarantee a place on the subsequent course if you pass the GDL. Remember, the GDL (apart from being an expensive addition to your knowledge) will not be of much use unless you get onto an LPC (or BPTC) course afterwards.
With this in mind, you should be looking for as much information as possible about the various institutions before applying. You should try to find out about not only the academic programme, but also any links with the profession, the level of individual career guidance, the facilities available and any relevant extra-curricular activities. It would also be helpful to get an idea of the institution's reputation among both students and the profession.
To help make your choice, use our Course search so that you can easily locate addresses and contact information.
When to apply
You should apply from September onwards in your final year at university. The application system has recently been changed so that there is no longer a closing date for applications; rather, applications are dealt with as they are submitted and institutions are notified weekly of new submissions.
How to apply
Applications for full-time places must be made through the Central Applications Board. Although online applications are greatly preferred, you can phone 01483 451080 to request a hard-copy form. Applications for part-time courses must be made direct to the provider.