updated on 18 February 2022
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Until 2021, if you studied a non-law degree at university and wanted to become either a solicitor or barrister, you had to take a conversion course known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Some institutions may refer to it as the Common Professional Exam, but this is the same as the GDL. Now, it is only compulsory for aspiring barristers from non-law degree backgrounds.
In September 2021, the route to qualifying as a solicitor changed with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) – see below for more information.
The GDL or law conversion course is a one-year, full-time (or two-year part-time) course that results in a diploma equivalent to a law degree. It forms the common basis for non-law graduate entry to both the solicitors' and barristers' professions. In the past,, without a law degree or the GDL you could not become a solicitor. This has now changed. With the SQE, non-law graduates are no longer required to take a law conversion course, although it is highly advised that they do some form of extra SQE preparation in order to fill the knowledge gap before they embark on the SQE preparation courses and assessments – some firms will even request that candidates complete one before embarking on further SQE preparation followed by the assessments.
These new SQE training courses will not result in a qualification or academic award like the GDL, and do not qualify for student loan funding.
Find out more about how you can fund the SQE via LCN’s Oracle.
Many legal education providers are developing non-law-specific preparation courses that incorporate the GDL, or aspects of it. For example:
Law conversion courses can also be taken over two years either part-time or by distance learning.
In short, if you’re a non-law graduate pursuing the barrister route, you must do the GDL.
If you’re a non-law graduate qualifying via the SQE, the GDL is no longer a requirement to becoming a solicitor. That said, you are encouraged to complete a non-law-specific SQE training/preparation course before you embark on further SQE preparation, followed by the SQE assessments – SQE1 and SQE2.
Whichever, way you get on the course, remember that it is an intensive, demanding programme.
The SQE is a new system of exams that all prospective solicitors must now pass at the point of qualifying.
As mentioned above, prospective solicitors no longer need a law degree or GDL to qualify. Instead, there are four new requirements.
Technically, anyone with a university degree (or equivalent) can attempt the SQE assessments without undertaking any legal training first (as long as they can afford the exam fees of £3,980).
But the SQE is not a course like a law degree, GDL or Legal Practice Course (LPC) – it is just a series of exams. This means that people with no previous legal training are unlikely to pass the SQE without additional preparation. The GDL and other, similar law conversion courses are therefore still a necessary stage of the journey for many non-law graduates.
The SQE is designed to give universities and law schools more freedom to decide how they prepare students to pass the exams.
A range of postgraduate SQE1 and SQE2 preparation courses have been developed by providers, including BARBRI, BPP University Law School, The University of Law and QLTS School. Some of these courses are similar to the GDL because non-law graduates need to learn about law and legal practice if they are going to stand a chance of passing SQE1 and SQE2.
Other courses look like they are more vocational and therefore undertaken by both law and non-law graduates – in which case people converting to law may find themselves taking two postgraduate courses to become solicitors, much like the GDL and LPC under the current system.
Continue to check for updates about these courses on the providers’ websites and LawCareers.Net – we will have the information you need as soon as it is available.
Head to LawCareers.Net’s SQE hub for insights and updates into the new route to qualification.
If you are a non-law graduate who is interested in a career as a barrister, you must complete the GDL before you can progress onto a vocational Bar course.
Students must start the Bar course stage of training within five years of completing the GDL.
Find out more