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The Oracle

Should I do the GDL or wait for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam?

updated on 07 October 2019

Dear Oracle

I’m in the final year of my non-law degree and aim to train as a solicitor at a City firm, but I’m not sure whether to start the GDL in September 2020 or wait for the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).

The Oracle replies

If you start the GDL in September 2020, you will still be able to qualify through the current route by continuing onto the LPC, but you will also have the option to take the SQE (provided that it is implemented on schedule in September 2021, without further delays). This means that there is no need to wait for the SQE, as both routes to qualifying will still be open to you once you complete the GDL.

In fact, from September 2020 you will be able to enrol on a modified GDL known as the PGDL (Postgraduate Diploma in Law), which combines the traditional content of a GDL but is geared toward preparing candidates for the SQE. BPP is the first law school to have announced its PGDL programme, but other law schools and universities are also preparing modified courses for the new SQE regime.

Candidates who complete the PGDL will then be able to progress onto the LPC, or a new course designed to teach students for the SQE stage two exams – but unfortunately details of these mystery courses have not yet been announced. Watch out for news on this front in late 2019 and early 2020.

Whatever you choose to do, the usual guidelines still apply – are you on course for a 2:1 (or higher) and do you have a good amount of work experience and/or extracurricular achievements to support your eventual application for a training contract?

We also recommend that you read the advice of BPP Law School’s Jonny Hurst, who has written in detail for LCN about the pros and cons of waiting for the SQE. We reproduce his thoughts on weighing up the SQE below.

Reasons to wait for the SQE

  • SQE test-preparation courses might be shorter and possibly cheaper than the LPC. To progress more quickly into the workplace with less debt undoubtedly has its attractions, but this can’t be confirmed until details of SQE stage two preparation courses are announced.
  • You could use the time while you wait for the SQE assessment and test-preparation courses to become available to gain valuable work experience. If nothing else, this may improve your CV and skill set. If you log your work experience carefully, you may even find that it can count towards your qualifying legal experience (QLE) as part of the qualification process under the new regime, which will then save you time on your qualification journey. However, it remains to be seen whether all legal employers will be prepared to hand out qualified associate roles on the basis of QLE gained at other organisations: some leading law firms could be unwilling to factor in such placements as part of the required two years’ QLE because doing so could be seen as diluting the currency of their much sought-after training contracts.
  • The new system of QLE, along with the possible predicted rise in law firms taking on apprentices through new graduate entry schemes, may mean there are more extensive opportunities for you to build your work experience if you are not in a rush to qualify under the existing system.
  • QLE is likely to be easier to obtain than a training contract, which is the part of the current qualification process that many candidates struggle to secure. However, until the new system beds down, there has to be some doubt as to whether all QWE will be held in the same esteem by legal recruiters.

Reasons to do the GDL

  • The SRA has been very clear that the SQE assessments will be rigorous and challenging, so if you have the choice, you may not wish to be a ‘guinea pig’ in the first few cohorts.
  • The length, cost and availability of SQE preparation courses and the cost of the SQE exam itself are still being revealed, nor can they be accurately predicted while the SRA is still finalising the format of the SQE assessments. So you are taking a gamble, weighing up the cost of the LPC against an unknown cost at this stage.
  • If funding is an issue for you, you can currently take advantage of postgraduate loan funding from the Student Loans Company by selecting an integrated master’s programme which incorporates the LPC, such as BPP’s LLM Legal Practice (Solicitors). Pure SQE test-preparation courses and the fees for SQE assessments are unlikely to be eligible for this funding. However, note that the PGDL can also incorporate a master’s, making it eligible for postgraduate funding.
  • Getting the opportunity to study three electives on the LPC gives you a chance to ‘test the water’ by studying specialist practice areas. This helps those without training contracts to make more informed decisions both in relation to the firms they should be applying to and their training contract seat preferences. It is also easier in the recruitment process for LPC students to use their electives to demonstrate a genuine interest in particular sectors, particularly those practice areas in which it is difficult to acquire relevant work experience.
  • You will not be tested on skills such as advocacy, drafting and interviewing fully until SQE stage two, so if you opt for a pure test-preparation course for SQE stage one, you may find yourself starting in the workplace without a grounding in these important skills, having to learn on the job. Most law firms who currently take on LPC graduates do so knowing that they have started to develop these skills and knowledge of the law and practice in relation to some of the firm’s key areas of work through their elective studies. So until the new system beds down, firms may still prefer LPC graduates.

Read LawCareers.Net’s guide to the Solicitors Qualifying Exam