updated on 19 November 2019
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 and the new 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 taken into account - 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 over £9,000 per year for your undergraduate studies, but that's just the beginning. In 2020-21 Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) course fees can be up to £11,650. Fees for the Legal Practice Course (LPC) are even higher – as much as £16,750. Meanwhile the new Bar courses replacing the Bar Professional Training Course range in price from around £13,000 - £16,000. 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.
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 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 £25,000 a year, £2,083 a month or £480 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.
If you did a non-law degree, you currently have to study the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), although this will change with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam in 2021. Fees range up to £11,650 (for a full-time course in London in 2020-21), but can be significantly less outside London. Added to these fees are your own living costs.
Expect to pay up to £16,750 for the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for a full-time course in London in 2020-21 – although you can pay considerably less outside London. Again, added to these fees are your own living costs.
Student Loans Company postgraduate funding
Postgraduate loans from the government are only available for master’s courses, not diplomas or professional certificates, meaning that postgraduate loans are not available for the GDL or standalone LPC.
However, many law schools and universities now offer LPCs that include a master’s qualification, meaning that you can get a postgraduate loan if you choose to study a LLM LPC.
Postgraduate loans go up to a maximum of £10,906. 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 - £40,000, 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 if 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 loans 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 may be able to provide.
Some law firms – particularly international, City or large regional firms – provide GDL and/or LPC 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 yourself.
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 have to 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. They 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 from £100 up to £22,000 and all are awarded on merit, although some Inns have awards for certain achievements. Most awards are given to students on the BPTC, 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 BPTC. The Inns’ websites have application forms which 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: www.lincolnsinn.org.uk, www.innertemple.org.uk, www.middletemple.org.uk and www.graysinn.org.uk.
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 the commensurate 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 would value your skills (which were achieved at great cost!). Either way, taking care of your financial wellbeing is vital.
Josh Richman is the senior editor of LawCareers.Net.