updated on 17 March 2021
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Until 2021, if you studied a non-law degree at university and want to become a solicitor or barrister, you must take a conversion course known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Some institutions may refer to it as the Common Professional Exam, but this is the same as the GDL. From 2021, the route to qualifying as a solicitor is changing – see below for more information.
The GDL is a one-year, full-time (or two-year part-time) course that results in 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 solicitor (unless you take the non-graduate, CILEx route). The course can also be taken over two years either part time or by distance learning. However, whichever way you get on the course, the GDL is an intensive, demanding programme.
Change ahead: the Solicitors Qualifying Examination
The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is a new system of exams that all prospective solicitors must pass at the point of qualifying from 2021.
When the SQE is introduced, prospective solicitors will no longer need a law degree or GDL to qualify. Instead, there are four new requirements. Candidates must
Technically, anyone with a university degree (or equivalent) can attempt the SQE assessments without undertaking any legal training first (as long as they can afford the exam fees totalling around £4,500). But the SQE is not a course like a law degree, GDL or Legal Practice Course (LPC) – it is just a series of exams. This means that, in reality, people with no previous legal training will be very unlikely to pass the SQE. The GDL and other, similar law conversion courses will therefore continue to be a necessary stage of the journey for many non-law graduates.
The changes being introduced by the SQE give universities and law schools more freedom to decide how they prepare students to pass the exams. The result is that a range of SQE preparation courses are currently in development. Some new courses will be similar to the old GDL, as non-law graduates will still need to learn about law and legal practice before they take the SQE. A range of postgraduate SQE1 and SQE2 preparation courses have been developed by providers, including BARBRI, BPP University Law School, The University of Law and QLTS School. For example, BPP University Law School launched a new Post Graduate Diploma in Law course which was available from September 2020. Other courses will be more vocational and therefore undertaken by both law and non-law graduates – in which case people converting to law may find themselves taking two postgraduate courses to become solicitors, much like the GDL and LPC under the current system.
Continue to check for updates about these courses on the providers' websites and LawCareers.Net, which will have the information you need as soon as it is available.
Head to LawCareers.Net’s SQE hub page for insights and updates into the new route to qualification.
If you are a non-law graduate who is interested in a career as a barrister, you will need to complete the GDL before you can progress onto a vocational Bar course.
Students must start the Bar course stage of training within five years of completing the GDL.
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