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The Oracle

Offered a training contract but can’t afford the GDL?

updated on 17 March 2020

Dear Oracle

I recently moved to London from Ireland and have been working as a paralegal. My firm has offered me a training contract but I’m ineligible for a postgraduate student loan. How can I fund my GDL?

The Oracle replies

First, speak to your firm. Many law firms sponsor their future trainees through the Legal Practice Course (LPC), and there may be scope for help with the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Some larger firms also offer a maintenance grant to fund future trainees’ living costs while they study.

If your firm’s sponsorship programme doesn’t include the GDL, you could ask if they would be willing to provide you with a loan, which you would start repaying out of your salary once you start your training contract.

You should also research the scholarships offered by different universities and law schools. There are a range of scholarships out there, from full fees to smaller grants.

Look at local authority grants. Your local authority will be able to provide you with details of mandatory and discretionary award policies. This will include courses which the authority considers suitable for the purposes of financial support. The GDL is categorised as a discretionary award. These awards are limited, and you should check with your local authority when to apply.

Another option is to study part time. This would enable you to carry on working while studying the GDL over two years in a range of possible formats, including weekend and distance learning. Most law schools offer payment plans enabling students to pay their course fees in instalments, which, combined with continuing in employment, could make the process financially manageable. Use LawCareers.Net’s Course search to see the available choices.

Change ahead: the Solicitors Qualifying Exam

You should be aware that the route to qualify as a solicitor is changing from 2021, with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE). Under the new system, those without a qualifying law degree in England and Wales will not have to complete the GDL or LPC to become solicitors. Instead, all you will need is a university degree (law or non-law) or equivalent, to pass the SQE and to complete two years’ qualifying work experience.

The experience you have already gained as a paralegal may count toward this qualifying work experience, which you and your law firm should discuss. This means that if you wait until the SQE is introduced, you could avoid having to take the GDL and LPC altogether while also ticking off the work experience requirement.

However, the SQE will cost as much as £4,500 just to take the exams and you will still need to pass the assessments, which may be very difficult without undertaking some kind of SQE preparation course first. As a result you could find yourself in a similar situation to your current one – having to fund a postgraduate course in order to become a solicitor. Unfortunately, we still don’t know much about the SQE-preparation courses currently in development, including what they will cost, but it is a reasonable possibility that these courses will charge just as much as the old GDL.

With that in mind, your first course of action should be to investigate the options discussed at the top of this article. Good luck!