The GDL: your ultimate guide

The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is a one-year course taken after you graduate. It is specifically for non-law students looking to convert to law, and you might have heard it called the law conversion course before now. Here’s your ultimate guide to the GDL.

  • Last updated Dec 11, 2019 5:54:35 PM
  • Becky Kells

What is the GDL?

The GDL is the current course for non-law students looking to pursue a career in law. It’s designed to equip you with all the academic knowledge needed to become a solicitor or a barrister. After doing the GDL, you’ll move on to do the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and a training contract if you want to be a solicitor, or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) followed by a pupillage if you want to be a barrister. It’s an intense course that takes you through the seven key areas of law in just one year.

Who is the GDL suitable for?

The GDL is for graduates (or soon-to-be graduates) who do not have a qualifying law degree but want to become a lawyer. You need an undergraduate degree or equivalent to study the GDL, but there is no limit on what subject you studied. The minimum grade for most GDL programmes is 2:2. 

You will also need to do the GDL if:

- You completed a BA law degree or a law degree that did not cover all seven of the core modules. 

- You have a legal qualification or degree from outside of England and Wales. 

However, you might be exempt from some of the modules on the GDL if you’ve already done them. 

If you did the LLB law, you don’t need to do the GDL if you want to be a solicitor or a barrister. It’s also not a recommended course if you’re an LLB graduate looking to further your academic studies, as it will just repeat the core modules you did at undergraduate level. LLB students looking for academic postgraduate courses should check out LLMs. 

What do I study in the GDL?

On most GDL courses, there will be a module that covers the introduction to the English legal system and a dissertation/research project. In addition to that, you’ll study seven core modules that are essential for anyone hoping to practise law. They are: 

- Constitutional and administrative law

- Criminal law

- Land law 

- Contract law 

- Equity and trusts

- European Union law

- Tort law 

You’ll be assessed via a combination of written exams, multiple-choice exams and written coursework depending on the provider. 

When should I do the GDL?

You’ll need to do the GDL before you do your LPC and training contract (for aspiring solicitors) or BPTC and pupillage (for aspiring barristers). Many students apply in the final year of their undergraduate degree, but there’s no time limit between finishing your undergraduate degree and starting the GDL.

Depending on your circumstances, you can do the GDL full-time, part-time or via distance learning. 

Sometimes, aspiring solicitors prefer to apply for their training contract before they have a GDL. This is possible because most training contracts recruit two years in advance, giving you time to do the GDL in one year and the LPC the next. In this case, the firm will often fund your GDL and select a provider on your behalf. You’ll study both courses alongside other future trainees at the firm. 

How do I pay for the GDL? 

GDL fees start at around £7,500 and can be more than £11,500 at some London providers, but they tend to be around the £9,000 marker. Funding the GDL yourself is a tricky one. As a diploma rather than a degree, it doesn’t qualify for the standard postgraduate student loan. Luckily, you have a few options. 

Option 1: Apply for training contracts first 

This is a preferable option for many graduates who want to be solicitors as if you are successful in securing a training contract, your future firm will fund your GDL (and the LPC). If this option appeals to you, you can apply for training contracts from your final year onwards.

Option 2: Complete a postgraduate degree with an integrated GDL 

This is a new option offered by some of the specialist law course providers like the University of Law and BPP. These courses are labelled differently depending on where you study them, but their integrated nature means that you can qualify for a student loan, so long as you meet all of the standard eligibility criteria. 

Option 3: Apply for bursaries and scholarships 

If you find yourself without a training contract and don’t want to go for one of the GDL-integrated degrees, there are a variety of bursaries and scholarships available for postgraduate law students. You can apply for one or a combination of these to pay for your GDL. 

But wait—what about the SQE?

You might have heard of a new course for solicitors called the SQE which is set to replace the GDL and the LPC. It’s scheduled for launch in 2021, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has proposed an 11-year transition period where students midway through their legal studies can qualify under the old or new way. If you’re a non-law student who will graduate in 2021, it’s worth finding out more about the SQE. If you’re a graduate or soon-to-be graduate looking to start your legal path as soon as possible, the GDL is the one for you. 

Which universities offer the GDL?

The GDL is offered by a range of traditional universities, within their law schools—for example, you can study the GDL at City University, Nottingham Trent University and the University of Leeds, to name just a few. There are also specific providers that just offer law-related degrees. Two of the biggest are the University of Law and BPP law school. 

How competitive is the GDL?

The GDL is not a competitive course, and it is much less competitive than applying for a training contract. To get a place on most courses you need a 2:2 or higher (at some providers the minimum requirement is a 2:1). You’ll need to include a personal statement and some references in your application. Some providers do give priority to students who select them as their first choice, so it’s important to bear that in mind when making your selection. 

When should I apply—and how?

There is no specific deadline for applying for the GDL, and some courses even have multiple start dates throughout the year. You shouldn’t leave it late, though, as courses do fill up. All graduate law courses are completed via a website called the Law Central Applications Board (CAB).

To help you make up your mind about which provider to choose, you can browse through our GDL section, where there are loads of GDL courses for you to compare and contrast.

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