Article Written by James Tonge, Philosophy Undergraduate at The University of Manchester.
For many aspiring lawyers, the traditional path of obtaining a law degree and passing the bar exam may seem like the only option. However, there are alternative paths for non-law students to become practising lawyers. This article explores the options available for non-law students to achieve their goal of becoming lawyers, particularly obtaining a law degree through a post-graduate course.
The GDL, or Graduate Diploma in Law, allows you to convert your non-law degree into a legal qualification with an intensive study period ending with exams. Although the GDL is just a one-year-long full-time or flexible study option over two years, the course is quite demanding and covers the material that LLB students studied for three years. To apply, all you need is an undergraduate degree (or its equivalent) in any field; meaning any student looking for a career in law has a pathway into the legal field. The GDL is offered at specialist law schools, like the University of Law, or traditional universities, such as Nottingham Trent or Manchester Metropolitan. Needless to say, each institution will have different entry requirements, but all of them give non-law students a chance to enter the legal field.
The GDL is one of the prerequisites that law firms and chambers have for their trainees and students from non-law undergraduate courses. The course covers the foundations of law: contract, tort, crime, equity and trust, European Union Law, property, and public. So, you are simply ineligible to practice law without the GDL. Although there are legal professions you can pursue without passing the conversion course, such as paralegals, if you want to become a solicitor or barrister, there is no getting around it for non-law students. The GDL platforms aspiring barristers for eligibility for a bar course, or alternatively, potential solicitors can then take the SQE exam. Again, this puts non-law students on an equal footing with law students when it comes to applying for jobs in the legal field. Arguably, it may put non-law students at an advantage. I will discuss this now.
Studying for an extra year may put some students off the GDL, but there are advantages to both a GDL and a non-law degree in terms of employment. With an ever-growing percentage of legal practitioners coming from non-law backgrounds, transferable skills from other degrees can make a CV stand out, such as written communication. The importance of written communication cannot be overstated. Examples include writing letters to clients or lengthy legal filings. Non-law students frequently have writing skills from their undergraduate studies, particularly students with essay-based subjects. Analytic skills are something which a student can detail in their applications. For instance, humanities courses frequently require students to conduct research on many viewpoints, write essays explaining those viewpoints, and defend their points of view. This is an important feature of any job in the legal sector as most employers are more interested in generalised abilities than precise legal knowledge. Firms frequently want to encourage applications from non-law backgrounds because they value the extra talents and unique viewpoints these applicants might offer. If you can evaluate and acknowledge your skills and show how they can be applied to the legal environment, then the non-law student has a strong application for employment in the legal sector.