The Conversion Course for Law

don’t have to have studied law at undergraduate level to enter a career in law. In fact, close to half of all candidates applying for training contracts and pupillages each

  • Last updated 22-Jul-2016 16:37:06
  • Maudie Powell-Tuck, All About Law

You don’t have to have studied law at undergraduate level to enter a career in law. In fact, close to half of all candidates applying for training contracts and pupillages each year are those who have not studied law at undergraduate level.

Non-law students can become eligible for a career in law once they have completed a mandatory conversion course: the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or the Common Professional Examination (CPE). 

Law conversion course content…

The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) (or the Common Professional Examination (CPE) syllabus) provides non-law students with a gateway into a legal career. The course is conducted over a period of one year and covers the fundamental basics of law and practical skills required to perform well on the ensuing professional course and internship programmes. 

The Joint Academic Stage Board (JSAB) is the education authority which oversees the content to be covered during the course. It has identified seven fundamental or core areas of law, knowledge of which is invaluable to anyone aspiring to a legal career.

The areas that are covered are: (i) contract law; (ii) tort law; (iii) criminal law; (iv) constitutional & administrative law; (v) European Union law; (vi) land or property law; and (vii) laws of equity & trust.

How to begin?

Non-law students who want to be lawyers should start preparing as early as possible while studying their undergraduate degree. 

The three main phases of research and initiation of the application process should follow a schedule, as listed here:

(a) Research law firms, barristers’ chambers, and judicial systems & procedure, and browse through the websites of the Law Society, Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority (SRA) and the Bar Council;

(b) During the first term of your second and final year of university, you should apply for forthcoming vacation placement schemes and mini-pupillages. You can also apply during your GDL.

(d) Final year of university: begin applying for training contracts with firms recruiting two years in advance, or follow the schedule for other firms as per their specific timetables. You can also apply during your GDL.

Those aiming for the Bar should follow the Pupillage Gateway (formerly known as the Pupillage Portal) schedule, or specific chambers’ schedule for chambers that do not use the Gateway.

Where to study the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and funding…

There are several institutions across the country providing the approved syllabus for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) course and your choice of institution will depend on several factors. Important considerations must account for location, costs, methods of teaching, practical skills covered and future placements for professional studies such as the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). 

Factors which might figure in your choice of school are:

(i) teaching and learning – methods used, available resources, level of proficiency in practical skills imparted, optional modules etc.

(ii) the cost of the course and its associated material (e.g. course books);

(iii) reputation and standing in the market: how is the school received by contemporaries. Are there professional tie-ups with law firms or other legal employers?

(iv) career guidance – for those who do not start the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) with a training contract or pupillage, the level of assistance provided in placements, preparation for interviews and tests, etc;

(v) provision for Legal Practice Course (LPC) & Bar Vocational Course (BVC) courses.

For the most comprehensive guide on all law schools, go to our Course section to read their individual profiles.

No local authority or state education grants are available for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). 
A significant stream of Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) funding is from law firms who offer their trainee solicitors fees and maintenance funds to cover both the LPC and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). For more information about covering the cost of the GDL, read our Funding the GDL article.

Law conversion course application process…

Applications for the law conversion course should be made online at www.lawcabs.ac.uk, the website of the Central Applications Board (CAB). There is no closing date to apply for the GDL but it’s worth applying relatively early before places on courses fill up.

To find out about the different schools you can take the conversion course at, head over to our GDL Courses section.

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