Oct 26, 2023

Written By Lewis Ogg

Why The Law Conversion Course Isn't Working

Oct 26, 2023

Written By Lewis Ogg

Law conversion courses, most commonly the Post-Graduate Diploma in Law (PDGL), have become an increasingly common route for undergraduates from non-law disciplines to transition to a legal career. However, its popularity means that many students overlook the challenges that come with it. This article will explore the key issues associated with law conversion courses and discuss whether it is still necessary within the context of the new SQE pathway to qualification. By the end of this article, you should be able to make an informed choice on whether it’s the right choice for you.

Understanding Law Conversion Courses

Undertaken at the end of a non-law undergraduate degree, the conversion courses offer students an intensive year-long qualification in law that awards them with a qualifying law degree that used to be a necessity for becoming a solicitor and remains so for aspiring barristers. 

From an academic perspective, these courses should not be undertaken lightly, as the full-time courses usually require at least 35-40 hours per week of study and little adjustment period due to time constraints. Because of these demands, students will usually need at least a 2:2 in their undergraduate degree, though students themselves should reflect on whether they can cope with the academic requirements.  

Typically, the PDGL covers only the most fundamental areas of law and will leave little to no individual module choice for the student. While exact syllabuses will vary between universities, an average convert may expect to study English Legal System and Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Tort Law, Contract Law, Land Law, Law of Organisations, Administrative and Human Rights, and Equity and Trusts.

Expectations vs Reality

Perhaps because of the reputation of law students as being more employment-orientated than other subjects, converts often expect that their course will provide them simultaneously with a smooth transition into legal practice and a fulfilling legal career to go with it. This is far from the case. 

The current reality is that within the hyper-competitive legal jobs market, law converts and law students alike struggle to acquire legal experience. Many have to wait multiple years after graduation to secure the position they presumed to get straight after university.  

Regardless of the competitiveness of the jobs market, it must also be remembered that education does not end with conversion. Aspiring solicitors will need to take the additional year-long Solicitors Qualifying Exams (SQE) and a bar course for aspiring barristers. Even after getting these secondary qualifications, applicants will still have to show soft skills, extra-curricular engagement with the law, and commercial awareness to really compete for a training contract.

Challenges with Law Conversion Course

Unlike an undergraduate degree, the level of governmental financial support is far less for master's tuition, so finances can become a real barrier for many considering this course. With a standalone PGDL you aren’t eligible for a postgraduate loan, unless you combine it with a master’s degree in law. Thus, you’ll probably need to find a way to fund your course and living expenses, be that through scholarships, bank loans or employment. A career can also be difficult to balance with the intensity of the PGDL

Furthermore, due to their intensity and short time span, conversion courses offer little in the way of practical legal training for their students. Where law undergraduates may expect to engage extensively with pro-bono work and skills workshops, converts have far less time for this, even if the offer is often there. This lack of practical training can put law converts at both an academic and professional disadvantage when competing for jobs against law undergrads.

The New SQE

Newly introduced, the SQE route to becoming a solicitor marks a serious change for converts as officially qualifying as a solicitor no longer requires a qualifying law degree, meaning theoretically, law conversions are no longer necessary. However,many law firms have said they would require such a degree regardless of passing the SQE exams. 

In line with this, it’s also advised that test takers, even those who have completed a law degree, take part in some specific prep course for the exam. The reason for this is not just that the SQE is examined in quite a unique manner, which many students will be unfamiliar with. Furthermore, the pass rate of the SQE is quite low, 51% for SQE1 and 77% for SQE2. Retaking either of the SQE exams will incur further costs. There is a limit of three failures per six years, after which you’ll have to wait six years.

However, one of the positives of the new SQE route is that you don’t have to worry about securing a training contract. Instead, you can complete two years qualifying work experience, which can be anything from paralegal work to volunteering in a law clinic.


Navigating the Post-Conversion Phase

There are many things that converts can do to maximise their chances of securing a training contract, but I would say that networking and application personalisation are the most important. Networking allows students to gain potentially useful industry insights and contacts, which they can leverage in their vacation scheme and training contract applications. 

Furthermore, properly researching the firms you apply for and tailoring your experiences to the firm’s culture are essential. 

While the focus for most converts will be on training contracts as a route to becoming a solicitor, remember that there is a range of legal adjacent careers such as paralegal, compliance, and legal research, where the skills and knowledge developed on the conversion course are very useful.

Conclusion: Rethinking Law Conversion 

While this article may appear relatively negative about law conversion courses, the intention is so that would-be converts can get a realistic picture of the high tuition fees, competitive job market, and serious need for prior career planning that comes with the course. I would encourage anyone after reading this article to think critically about whether they want to pursue a career in law, taking the time to properly research and seek career guidance if necessary. 

Undertaking the conversion course is a significant professional and financial commitment, so it should be done with appropriate care and forethought. However, providing you take some time to consider the decision, you could be making an excellent choice for your future career.


Law Conversion Course