updated on 01 February 2023
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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, however, the GDL is only compulsory for aspiring barristers from non-law degree backgrounds.
As for aspiring solicitors, in September 2021 the route to qualifying changed with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) – see below for more information.
The GDL/PGDL 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 the barristers' profession. It can also be taken over two years either part-time or by distance learning. In the past, without a law degree or the GDL you couldn’t become a solicitor. This has now changed. Find out more below.
The SQE is a new system of exams that all prospective solicitors must now pass at the point of qualifying. As part of this route, non-law graduates are no longer required to take a law conversion course. 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 £4,115).
To qualify via the SQE, candidates must:
However, the SQE isn’t a course like a law degree, GDL or the Legal Practice Course (LPC) – it’s a series of exams. This means that people with no previous legal training are unlikely to pass the SQE without additional preparation (even law graduates are being encouraged to complete a preparation course). The GDL and other similar law conversion courses are therefore still a necessary stage of the journey for non-law graduates. In fact, some firms will even request that their future trainees complete a specific prep course before sitting the SQE assessments.
Many legal education providers are developing non-law specific preparation courses that incorporate the GDL, or aspects of it, and prepare non-law students for SQE preparation courses. For example:
Other courses are more vocational and can therefore be taken 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’ll have the information you need as soon as it’s available.
If you’re a non-law graduate who’s interested in a career as a barrister, you must complete the GDL or PGDL 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.
Whichever route you take, remember that it’s an intensive, demanding process.
Find out more