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The law degree and non-law degree routes – what is the difference?

The law degree and non-law degree routes – what is the difference?

Chantal Elian


When I first started researching the non-law route to a law career I was spoilt for choice with resources, advice and websites. The non-law route is in many ways very similar to what you would need to do if you studied for a law degree, which is great – it means that almost everything you find about pursuing a career in law is relevant to you. On the other hand, it can mean that finding the specific differences and information relevant to only non-law students can be a little difficult when you are starting out.

However, coming from a non-law background will in no way put you at a disadvantage; the differences are mainly additional steps and considerations you will need to take along the way. So don’t worry about it being a little different from the law degree route, as everyone is heading in the same direction and you will find more similarities than differences along the way!

If you are considering the non-law route and wondering what the main differences might be, hopefully this blog can provide you with a helpful overview and a starting point on what you might find helpful to research more specifically. 

The Graduate Diploma in Law

The biggest difference in your route will be the need to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) – a postgraduate course in which you will study seven core legal areas and gain the legal knowledge you need to progress.

There are a few additional considerations in terms of how, when and where you want to study the course, and how you will fund it. Universities which offer the course will often run open days/evenings similar to what you will have attended before deciding on your undergraduate degree and these can be helpful in considering the course and the accompanying decisions you need to make. 

After you have completed the course you will find yourself in the same position as those who have studied a law degree, and from here on out your journey and options will be near identical.


The opportunities available to law and non-law students are identical and there is only a slight difference regarding when you can get started. Some opportunities require you to have some legal knowledge, which means that during your undergraduate degree they might not be easily accessible to you. Most will, however, become available to you once you have completed your GDL!

That does not mean that you have no chance of getting involved with anything legal during your non-law degree; there are plenty of opportunities you don’t need a legal background for. For example, getting involved with your university’s law society, entering legal competitions such as client interviewing and negotiation, and volunteering with organisations that provide training such as Citizens Advice can still be accessible to you and equally worthwhile.

Timescale and application dates

Due to the additional course needed after you complete your undergraduate degree, there will be an additional year (as a minimum) in your timeline towards a career in law as a non-law student.

This won’t affect your chances or opportunities in any way, but is something you need to consider when you are applying and making any plans for the future. It can also mean that some application dates will be different for you. Normally, non-law students wanting to become a solicitor can only begin applying for vacation schemes and training contracts from their final year of university, to account for the additional GDL year. It is a good idea to check with individual firms you are interested in, on whether there is any separate information regarding non-law student applications. 

When you are applying to firms it is also a good idea to be clear on how you intend to spend the next few years and what year you are looking to have completed your relevant courses. Often this will be a question you could be asked in interviews and applications, as your answer will likely be unique to your circumstances and plans – there is no right or wrong way to progress, but knowing your options and plans can be worthwhile.