updated on 09 March 2022
The cost of studying for the qualifications to become a solicitor or barrister is obviously of paramount importance to the vast majority of people pursuing a career in law. Here is our guide to the loans and scholarships available for law degrees, as well as the GDL, LPC, SQE and Bar courses.
Training to be a lawyer is not cheap. If you have to pay for all your university tuition fees and vocational courses, you could incur debts of many tens of thousands of pounds. And it's not just course fees that have to be considered – there are also the costs of books, accommodation, a laptop or tablet, food, transport and a suit to wear to careers events and interviews. This is a huge financial investment with no guarantee of a training contract or pupillage at the end of it.
You are likely to be looking at fees of more than £9,000 per year for your undergraduate studies, but that's just the beginning. In 2021-22 Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) course fees can be up to £12,550. Fees for the Legal Practice Course (LPC) are even higher – as much as £17,500 – and for the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), preparation course costs vary depending on programme content, with some education providers charging upwards of £7,000. The cost of taking the exams (£3,980) is not included in the preparation course costs.
Meanwhile the new Bar courses (that replaced the Bar Professional Training Course) range in price from around £13,000 – £17,500 (plus living costs). These fees represent the upper limits of what you can expect to pay and you can generally find lower fees outside London, but the courses are always a significant financial undertaking - especially given the rising cost of living.
Read LCN’s guide to barrister training for more information on the education providers offering Bar courses.
So, with that in mind, how do you go about financing your studies?
Undergraduate law and non-law degrees
There are two types of loan available for your undergraduate degree:
Most students have to use both types of loan, but the loans are repayable only after you have graduated and even then, you pay only 9% on any earnings over the repayment threshold of £27,295 a year, £2,274 a month or £524 a week. If you earn less than that, you don’t repay the loan.
Some grants are also available from your university or indirectly when you’ve gone through the normal loans application process (the money actually comes from your local education authority). Government maintenance grants were scrapped by the government in 2016.
Visit the government’s student finance website for more details of how financial support is administered.
With the introduction of the SQE in September 2021, the GDL is no longer a requirement for non-law graduates. That said, non-law graduates are being encouraged to take a law conversion course before embarking on any SQE preparation courses. Fees range up to £12,550 (for a full-time course in London in 2021-22) but can be significantly less outside London. Added to these fees are your own living costs.
Expect to pay up to £17,950 for the LPC for a full-time course in London in 2022-23 – although you can pay considerably less outside London (from £13,200). Again, added to these fees are your own living costs.
Check the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s transitional arrangements to find out whether you can continue to qualify via the LPC.
SQE prep fees
The SQE prep course fees depend on the type of course you choose to take. Some education providers have developed master's programmes that include prep for SQE1 and SQE2 and can cost as much as £16,950 in London. However, individual preparation courses (eg, The University of Law's SQE1 Preparation Course and SQE2 Preparation Course) can cost as much as £5,650 in London. Other training providers are offering cheaper alternatives, for example, BARBRI's SQE1 Prep and SQE2 prep cost £2,999 and £3,999, respectively.
It's worth doing some research on what individual providers are doing in this regard.
Student Loans Company postgraduate funding
Postgraduate loans from the government are available only for master’s courses, not diplomas or professional certificates, meaning that postgraduate loans are not available for the GDL, standalone LPC or SQE preparation courses.
However, much like they did with the LPC, many law schools and universities have developed SQE preparation courses that include a master’s qualification, meaning that you can get a postgraduate loan if you choose to study one of these.
Postgraduate loans go up to a maximum of £11,570 if your course starts on or after 1 August 2021. It is up to the student to decide how they want to divide the loan between paying course fees and living costs.
Future finance loans
The biggest private student loan provider in the UK is Future Finance. Loans range from £2,000 to £25,000, covering both tuition fees and living costs.
These loans are also available to EU and international students, as well as those from the UK.
To secure a Future Finance loan, you need to apply six months before you start your postgraduate course. To find out more about the loan and see whether you are eligible, go to the Future Finance website.
Graduate bank loans
Loans for postgraduate study are also available from many high street banks. A graduate loan is a viable way to fund the GDL, but you should exhaust all your other options first.
Loans range from £1,000 to £15,000 and are subject to a suitability assessment. Contact your bank to find out what support it can provide.
Some law firms – particularly international, City or large regional firms – provide GDL and/or LPC/SQE sponsorship upon your acceptance of an offer of a training contract. In some cases, this includes paying back a loan you have already taken out.
Sponsorship is sometimes (although rarely) available from other bodies that take on trainees. For instance, the Government Legal Service offers limited financial help for its future trainees. Use the ‘sponsorship offered’ filter on LawCareers.Net’s training contract search to find firms that offer sponsorship.
If you are recruited during your degree and the firm offers to sponsor you through your postgraduate course(s), it will probably recommend a particular law school or university. You’re then likely to study several modules tailored to the firm’s work areas.
All universities and law schools offer a limited number of scholarships, awards and bursaries. Some may be for students who show exceptional ability, while others exist to support students who could not otherwise afford the course fees. Learn more about what scholarships are available on your university or law school's website, or contact the scholarships team directly.
Inns of Court
Aspiring barristers must join an Inn of Court and four Inns provide various scholarships and financial help. For information about the scholarships available at each of the four Inns of Court, go to the Inns of Court Scholarships section.
Between them, the four Inns of Court offer millions of pounds in awards every year. The umbrella term 'award' is used to describe all scholarships, bursaries and grants.
Each Inn is a completely separate entity and so the rules governing scholarships differ. Amounts vary and all are awarded on merit, although some Inns have awards for certain achievements. Most awards are given to students on the Bar course, but the Inns also have funds available for those on the GDL.
It’s advisable to apply in the final year of your degree or in the year before starting the GDL or Bar course. The Inns’ websites have application forms that ask for character details, legal experience, income/funds and references. You can apply for scholarships only at one Inn. If the scholarships committee likes your application, it will invite you to an interview.
For a summary, read our guide to joining an Inn of Court. Contact the Inns direct for more detailed info:
Some grant-making trusts and charities may offer financial assistance to those seeking to qualify as a solicitor. You can find information about grants, loans and other funds from your local education authority awards officer.
Finally, the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) website funding page can provide all prospective and current students with information regarding financial help. The page also provides information about the Law Society’s Diversity Access Scheme.
So, what can we say? Training to be a lawyer is expensive and there are no guarantees. Hopefully, you will be rewarded for your outlay by a training contract or pupillage (and your dream wage). If so, great – it was all worth it. If not, move on – try and broaden your view on where your career might take you, and think of alternative sectors/industries that will value your skills. Either way, taking care of your financial wellbeing is vital.
Olivia Partridge is the content producer at LawCareers.Net.