Robert Hiscocks is the programme leader for the part-time GDL programmes offered by BPP Law School in London. Here, Robert explains how a part-time law conversion course can help you fulfil your dream of becoming a lawyer, even if you are not working in the legal sector…
“My job doesn’t interest me anymore and the prospects for promotion are nil. I’m really interested in the law and I think I could make a good lawyer, but I can’t afford to go back to studying full-time for two years, and surely I can’t carry on working and study part-time. The workload would be too much!”
This is the dilemma facing those contemplating a career change to become a lawyer. But, it is possible to achieve your dream by studying part-time whilst working. It takes commitment and a lot of work, but the rewards are significant.
Where do I start?
If you have a non-law degree, you’ll have to complete a law conversion course, which is known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). It takes two years to complete on a part-time basis (full time: one year).
Classes comprise lectures and tutorials, and most law schools have flexible study modes. At BPP Law School, you can attend lectures, which are run on one evening per week, or you can listen to recordings of the lectures at a time to suit you. For tutorials, you can attend one evening per week, or one day per week or on alternate Saturdays. You can even attend all classes online. For instance, BPP runs live interactive tutorials over the internet.
You’ll cover the same subjects as full-time students. The subjects are split though, so you will study some in year one, and the rest in year two. However, the exact same programme content is covered on both the full-time and part-time courses.
Classroom time is only part of the overall course; you’ll also need time for tutorial preparation. Realistically, you should set aside at least a couple of evenings, or one Saturday or Sunday per week for private study. Some students take annual leave from work prior to their end-of-year exams and some pre-arrange study leave with their employers to prepare for assessments.
What are the advantages of studying the law conversion course part-time?
There are many advantages of studying part-time. You will not have to learn as many subjects simultaneously, as your studies are spread out over a longer period of time. Also, you’ll have more time to research the law firms that you may want to apply to.
Part-time GDL student Michelle was recently awarded a Distinction. She studied whilst working full-time for the Metropolitan Police. She says:
“Studying whilst working full-time takes a lot of commitment if you want to achieve top marks. I did 15-20 hours a week. Thanks to the flexibility of study methods offered by BPP, particularly online materials and recorded lectures, I was able to work at lunchtimes and whilst travelling to and from work, which meant I could keep my weekends free.
“The GDL is an intensive course, so spreading it over two years meant I could give full attention to each of the modules and therefore I probably achieved a better result than I would have done if I'd studied it full-time over one year.”
When should I apply for training contracts? And what can I do to improve my chances?
As most of the larger law firms recruit their trainees two years in advance, if you are planning to study both the GDL and LPC on a part-time basis, the best time to apply for a training contract is the summer after you finish the GDL.
Jenny studied the GDL and LPC part time while she worked for the Civil Service, and is now half way through a training contract with a large City firm.
She advises applicants to prepare for the training contract process at the beginning of their studies: “Obviously it’s important to get good exam results, but there’s a lot of competition out there and firms will expect you to have gained not just academic, but also practical, legal experience”.
Even though it puts more pressure on part-timers, any legal experience helps. Jenny enrolled in BPP’s pro bono centre as soon as she began the GDL and got involved in several projects, either from home or in the evenings to develop her legal skills and bolster her CV. From interview feedback, she realised the importance that firms placed on this experience.
Although Jenny couldn't take two or three weeks off work in the summer to do a vacation scheme, she used contacts to obtain a week's work experience in a medium-sized law firm.
Part-time students like Jenny have the advantage of being able to highlight skills gained from their current employment in any applications or interviews, and demonstrate how they would be beneficial in the legal world.
Finally, firms know how difficult it is to combine a full-time job with study and most will be impressed with your organisational and time management skills, and your motivation and determination to succeed.