It’s not just those with a law degree who can become a lawyer. Even if you haven’t studied law at undergraduate level, you can still pursue a career in law.
Law conversion courses are normally referred to as the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
Whatever the title, their primary purpose is to prepare you for the next level of study: the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for trainee solicitors or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) for prospective barristers.
Law conversion courses can be studied full-time (over one year) or part-time (over two years). Whichever mode you choose, the course will be very intensive and require a great deal of stamina and self-discipline.
Undertaking any course of study requires significant investment in time and money and you will need to be highly motivated.
It is wise, then, to consider thoroughly all aspects and implications of the training so that, should you decide to go ahead and convert, you can do so with the confidence that you have done the necessary groundwork.
Here are some things to consider:
1. Do you know anyone who has undertaken legal training?
First hand reports can be invaluable in getting a feel for the job. Bear in mind that any account of personal experience will be subjective, so keep an open mind and, ideally, speak with more than one person.
2. What do you know about the legal profession? What is it about law that appeals? What are the potential rewards of a career in law?
There is a wealth of information about training and working in the legal profession. Find out as much as you can at this stage. Your university or college careers service will be able to help.
3. Think about how the idea of studying to be a lawyer first came to you.
If it was a 'eureka' moment, is it still as attractive in the cold light of day? If it is something you have been considering for some time, are you still as motivated as you once were?
4. Are you ready for further study?
You may well have been in full-time education for some fifteen or sixteen years by now. Do you feel you need a break from study or are you raring to go?
5. What are the key skills you need to be a lawyer?
Here are a few:
o Interpersonal skills;
o The ability to analyse and assimilate large amounts of complex and disparate information;
o Workload and time-management skills;
o Commercial awareness;
o And attention to detail.
In addition, barristers need to be able to represent their clients confidently and eloquently in court.
Research your options fully…
Of course, there will be other factors that you will want to consider, such as course fees and living expenses. There is no statutory funding for law courses and funding from local education authorities is rare.
The majority of people embarking on law conversion courses will finance their studies from a variety of sources, such as parents, loans, scholarships etc.
Some law firms offer sponsorship for conversion courses; your careers service may be able to point you in the right direction or you can visit the law firm and training contract pages on this website.
You would be well advised to discuss your plans with a qualified careers adviser, who can provide information and guide you through the decision-making process. Otherwise, talk through your plans with somebody already working in the profession.
What will the law conversion course involve?
The course will bring you up to the same standard as someone who has already completed a three-year LLB (or undergraduate law degree).
In addition to an introduction to the legal system and an optional subject, conversion courses will cover seven core topics:
o Contract law;
o Criminal law;
o Law of tort;
o Property law;
o EU law;
o Constitutional and administrative law;
o And equity and law of trusts.
I want to convert to law, what happens next?
Now, assuming you have done all the groundwork and you have decided to apply, here is what you need to do.
1. Check application guidance notes on the website of the Central Admissions Board. There is no deadline for applying for the GDL, applications are dealt with when they are received, but it's a good idea to apply sooner rather than later.
2. Of course, before you apply you’ll need to find out about the institutions offering law conversion courses. A list of accredited courses can be found on the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) website at http://www.sra.org.uk.
3. Go to the CAB website http://www.lawcabs.ac.uk. Follow the application instructions.
Note that for part-time and distance learning courses you will need to apply directly to the institution concerned. Also, be aware that closing dates and other details may be different from those pertaining to full-time courses.
What else do I need to know about converting to law?
Of course, simply taking the GDL doesn’t guarantee a career in law.
It is a good idea to get as much work legal work experience as you can, so look out for vacation placements and, if you are aiming to be a barrister, opportunities for mini-pupillages.
Alternatively, try contacting law firms and barristers' chambers to enquire about shadowing or informal work experience opportunities.
This short article covers just the bare essentials about law conversion courses. For further information see the Solicitors Regulation Authority.