Is the GDL for you?

  • Last updated 24-Jan-2019 12:56:53
  • By Maudie Powell-Tuck, AllAboutLaw

Pursuing a career in law has always been a popular choice, with people lured by the prospect of a reward job and good pay. For those who have not studied law at university, the Graduate Diploma in Law is the first step on the journey to legal employment.

The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), or the Common Professional Examination (CPE) as it is also known, provides non-law graduates with a gateway to a career as a solicitor or as a barrister. 

The course normally runs for a period of one academic year (e.g. between September and June), but can also be completed over a two-year period with part-time learning by those who are otherwise engaged and unable to devote their time to a full-time course. 

Are you eligible for the GDL?

To apply for the GDL you need to hold one of the following qualifications:

(a) a degree from a recognised UK institution or a graduate degree from any overseas institution which is recognised by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) as equivalent to a UK degree. Honorary degrees are not included in this classification.

(b) Academic and/or vocational qualifications accepted as a degree equivalent by SRA;

(c) Fellow or member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (ClLEx).

What's involved in the GDL?

The GDL is an intensive law course that compressed the three-year undergraduate law degree into one or two years. It covers the basic tenets and principles of law, statutory requirements and usage, and an in-depth and exhaustive look at case-law and history. 

In brief, the foundation subjects covered under the GDL are:

- contracts: commercial or otherwise, obligations, enforcement and remedies for breach;

- torts: civil wrongs leading to a loss or damage to the victim, reparations for wrongs, etc;

- crime: various offences, degree of violence or damage caused, enforcement of law & order and penalties and punishments;

- equity & trusts;

- European Union law;

- property & estate law;

- and public law: the judicial & legal process, judicial review, constitutional principles, human rights & liberties, discrimination, etc.

The course schedule tends to last over a period of 36 weeks, with 45 hours of lectures, tutorials and self-study per week (for those studying full-time). For the fulltime course, the assessment process includes a three-hour final exam on each of the seven subjects, to be cleared in one sitting, independent research and a multiple choice exam.

Who offers the GDL?

There are a number of recognised institutions which provide the GDL curriculum and it is crucial for students to conduct extensive research on the offerings of each provider to pick the one which suits their needs best. 

A few important considerations that should be a priority during this process are whether the provider also offers the subsequent  Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) which are mandatory requirements to get a full licence to practice law. 

Also important are the kind of coursework and tutorial support provided, placement programmes, if any, career counselling, tie-ups with law firms, and the general campus buzz and reputation of the provider among students and legal professionals. 

For more information on these individual providers, go to our ‘Course’ section where all institutions are extensively reviewed. 

How do I apply?

GDL applications should be submitted through the Central Applications Board (CAB).There’s no closing dates for applying for the GDL, but it doesn’t hurt to get your application in as early as possible. The majority of people start the GDL in September, so most apply the winter before or during Easter time. Some institutions offer January start GDL courses, for these you’ll still need to apply through Law CAB.  

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