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The Student Lawyer

The GDL

You didn’t do a law degree, but you still want to be a lawyer? Here we look at the law conversion course (GDL), what it is, how to apply and what it takes.

What is the GDL?

‘GDL’ stands for the Graduate Diploma in Law, and is often referred to as the law conversion course. The GDL is a one year (full time) or two year (part time) course for non-law graduates who wish to complete the LPC or BPTC. For those who do not hold an LLB, this is an essential part of the journey to becoming a solicitor or barrister.

Providers

Many higher education institutions in the UK provide the GDL, including some specialist private providers, such as BPP University and The University of Law.  The Student Lawyer provides a search facility to help identify institutions that provide the GDL. Unlike an undergraduate course, UCAS do not get involved in the GDL application process. Instead, prospective students should apply directly to their chosen institution. Many institutions require that you have already obtained at least a high second class classification of your first degree. Most GDL courses are offered for between £7-10k per year.

Before you apply

Before applying to study the GDL, you should think about why you want to take this course. Most students on a GDL course intend to use the qualification as a stepping stone on the route to becoming a barrister or solicitor. Some students, however, may want to study the GDL to further their careers in other directions, hold it as a qualification in its own right, or simply enjoy the process of learning and have an interest in the law. If you’re aiming to become a lawyer, it is worth noting that some law firms prefer their trainees to have trained at a particular institution. If you’ve already secured a training contract or pupillage, your firm or chambers may have already decided which institution you should use as your GDL provider.

Getting started

The GDL is a very intensive course and once you begin, you may find it difficult to find the time to apply for training contracts, vacation schemes, pupillage and mini-pupillages, on top of your regular studying. Before you hit the books then, it is advised that you should spend some time taking a look around the various law firms and chambers (click here to search law firms) to familiarise yourself with their work, and see if any appeal to you as places you would like to work in the future.

All law firms and chambers require their trainees and pupils to have a good awareness of the world around them, beyond the remit of their course. You will need to show you have a commitment to the law and, in many cases, you will be required to have a good level of commercial awareness. Use the time before you start your course to develop your understanding of the commercial world. If you do not do this already, begin reading good quality national newspapers, such as the Financial Times. Watch or listen to the news. BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme is recommended as a very good starting point.

In addition, engaging in some background reading is never a bad thing. Some GDL providers prescribe background reading for you to do, before the commencement of your course. I however, would recommend Richard Susskind’s Tomorrow’s Lawyers, Christopher Stoakes’ Commercial Awareness, and What about Law?, by Barnard, Sullivan and Virgo, as excellent starting points.

Get stuck in

Once your course begins, make sure you attend all tutorials and lectures, and submit all assigned work on time. Listen carefully to feedback from your lecturers. Try to take it in without being defensive: they do know best. Read wide. A broader knowledge is gained from wider reading, and this will lead to higher marks in assessments.

If you’re aiming to be a lawyer, don’t forget that you cannot rely on your academia alone. You also have to take steps towards advancing your career outside of your studies. Make sure you’re engaging with law firms and chambers, attending law fairs, applying for vacation schemes and mini-pupillages, and engaging in as much networking as possible. Maintain your commercial awareness too, as you never know when you might bag an interview for a firm of chambers and then be quizzed on a topic from that day’s newspapers.

Many GDL providers offer a range of activities through their students’ unions, which can be fun and also allow you to develop your skills through teamwork and positions of responsibility. These opportunities often arrive in the form of sports teams, clubs, and societies. They may cover a wide range of interests, from mooting to wine tasting. Involving yourself in these activities is a fun way towards self-improvement and will also provide you with good interview talking points.

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