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The Oracle

Distance learning and the GDL

updated on 11 June 2019

Dear Oracle

As a career changer looking to retrain as a solicitor while balancing work and family commitments, can I do the GDL through distance learning? Will this affect my prospects?

The Oracle replies

Distance learning is  now seen as a perfectly normal option and with the technology available, it makes a lot of sense for many people. Plenty of full-time courses no longer require students to attend lectures in person, with lectures recorded and posted online soon after they are given. Lecturers and tutors also provide distance learners with the feedback and one-to-one help they need over video link and email, although this could still be more limiting than simply knocking on your tutor’s door during their office hours.

Several universities and law schools teach the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) through distance learning, with most of the work done online and just a small number of in-person study days to attend throughout the two years of part-time study for each course. You should not be at a disadvantage provided that you study at a reputable provider, put the work in to do well in your studies, and research and engage with employers which match your criteria in terms of practice areas, culture and location – all musts for full-time students, too.

As with any course, you should research the institution teaching it before you commit and ensure that you only enrol on a course with a solid reputation for a high standard of teaching, resources and careers support. And while distance learning provides much-needed flexibility for people with work, caring or other commitments, the time you will need to dedicate to studying is still considerable – the GDL in particular is intense and requires many hours of private study a week. It is important to appreciate the amount of work involved!

We also highly recommend applying for legal work experience opportunities such as vacation schemes if your commitments allow. It is more likely that you will secure a training contract if you engage with a firm face to face, giving both you and those who might recruit you the opportunity to see how you work together. Here is perhaps the only potential disadvantage of distance learning – it may be much harder to attend networking events and open days where you can meet firms you might be aiming to join as a trainee.

However, completing the GDL (and LPC) through distance learning should not ultimately be a disadvantage. Just as if you were studying a full-time course and attending lectures in person, the onus is on achieving good marks. The rest – researching and engaging with firms, and ensuring that your applications are the best they can be – is up to you in the same way it is for any student.

Are you a career changer considering retraining as a lawyer? See LCN’s guidance for career changers and mature students.