The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) – A Guide |
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The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) – A Guide

Written by Ben Taylor

The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is a Law conversion course that effectively fits around 18 months of undergraduate Law study into one intensive year. These courses often provide you with preparation for the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

We’ve put together a guide to all the essential information you need to know before applying for a GDL course. Read on to find out what they involve, why you should choose one and how you could get funding for your GDL.

You can also begin your search for the perfect Graduate Diploma in Law right now by browsing the GDLs listed on our website.

Changes to qualifying as a solicitor

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) was introduced in September 2021 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) as a way of simplifying the qualification process for aspiring solicitors. It will effectively replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC). However, if you’ve already completed, begun or accepted a place on a GDL, LPC or training contract on 1 September 2021, there are transitional arrangements for you to qualify via the previous route until 2032.

These changes mean that you don’t necessarily need to complete a conversion course to qualify as a solicitor if you studied a non-Law degree – however, some of these courses will provide you with valuable preparation and training for the SQE.

What is a Graduate Diploma in Law?

A Graduate Diploma in Law is the first step to beginning a legal career for those who didn’t study Law at undergraduate level. Although not compulsory, a GDL can be great preparation for the SQE.

GDLs equip you with all the knowledge delivered by an undergraduate Law degree, putting you on an equal footing with Law graduates. In fact, some legal firms favour those who have completed a GDL over Law graduates, recognising that these students have gained a broader skillset from their original degree.

Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)
Type Taught / Professional
Subjects Law
Qualification Level 6 (NQF)
Length 1 year
Credits Value 120 CATS / 60 ECTS
Availability England and Wales

How much does a Graduate Diploma in Law cost?

Tuition fees vary from law school to law school, but you can expect to pay somewhere between £5,000 and £11,000 for a year of full-time study. Courses based in London may be more expensive than those outside the capital.

There are several funding options available to you – find out more about GDL funding.

What are the entry requirements?

Again, the exact entry requirements for a GDL differ from institution to institution. But most providers will ask for an undergraduate degree of at least 2:2 in any subject. Relevant work experience isn’t necessarily vital, but universities (especially the more competitive ones) may take this into account when assessing your application.

Which countries award the Graduate Diploma in Law?

You can take the Graduate Diploma in Law in both England and Wales, but Scotland and Northern Ireland have equivalent qualifications that follow the same principle of allowing non-law graduates to convert their degree to an LLB (Hons):

  • Scotland – The Scottish equivalent of the GDL is the LLB Law (Graduate Entry), an accelerated two-year course that converts a non-law degree.
  • Northern Ireland – The Northern Irish equivalent is the MLaw, also an accelerated two-year programme for non-law graduates. However, you don’t need a Northern Irish legal qualification to practice in Northern Ireland if you studied in England or Wales, unlike Scotland.

As you’d expect, other legal systems operate differently to the UK’s, and the qualifications and training they offer vary accordingly. America, Canada and Australia don’t offer an intense, one-year conversion course like the GDL, instead asking graduates of any discipline to complete the Juris Doctor, a three-year programme.

Who is the Graduate Diploma in Law for?

Put simply, a GDL is for non-Law graduates who want to convert their degree to an LLB (Hons) and eventually pursue a legal career. The next step in this path is the SQE: a two-part exam introduced in September 2021 as a way of simplifying the qualification process for solicitors. Many GDLs offer integrated training and preparation for this important exam.

What’s it like to study a Graduate Diploma in Law?

Before you actually start a GDL, many providers will supply you with a list of pre-course reading and study materials so that you’ll be fully prepared to begin the qualification.

Once you begin the GDL in earnest, you’ll have an intense programme of workshops, lectures and independent study. You can expect to spend around 45 hours a week studying. The course is generally split into two terms, each with core modules on legal areas like:

  • Contract law
  • Criminal law
  • Equity and trusts
  • EU law
  • Land law
  • Public law
  • Torts law

Increasingly, institutions are embracing online approaches to learning. Even traditional, ‘physical’ GDLs have online elements such as lectures delivered by screencast. It’s also possible to take a GDL which is taught and assessed entirely online. Ideal for people with busy work or family commitments, these online GDLs are just as well-respected as traditional ones.

Full-time GDLs are completed within one year, while their part-time equivalents take two years.

How is a Graduate Diploma in Law assessed?

Generally, you’ll be assessed via seven three-hour, closed-book exams on those seven core modules listed above. Some programmes may also feature an element of coursework, where you write an essay on a certain topic (or a research subject of your choice).

How can I fund a Graduate Diploma in Law?

There are several options for funding when it comes to GDLs. We’ve listed some of the finance sources that are available to help fund yours:

  • Sponsorship – If you’re recruited by a law firm before beginning your GDL, many will cover your tuition fees and may provide you with a maintenance grant to help with living costs.
  • Scholarships – Lots of universities offer scholarships and bursaries to help students from less privileged backgrounds, or who have outstanding academic results.
  • Employment – If you study a part-time or online GDL, you may be able to balance your studies with full-time work, helping you afford the fees.

Unfortunately, UK postgraduate loans are not available for GDLs. Only Masters-level qualifications are eligible for this form of funding.

For more information on funding, check out our guide to postgraduate finance.

What to do after a GDL?

If you want to become a solicitor, there are a couple of different pathways for you after completing a GDL. The main one is the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which was introduced in September 2021 as a way of standardising and simplifying the qualification process for solicitors. You’ll need to pass a series of assessments as well as complete the equivalent of two years of qualifying work experience (QWE).

Alternatively, if you already begun or finished a GDL before September 2021, you can qualify as a solicitor under the previous route involving the Legal Practice Course (LPC). There are transitional arrangements in place to qualify via this route until 2032 for those who have already begun their legal training before the SQE was introduced.

If you want to become a barrister, representing clients in court (rather than working in an office environment, like a solicitor), you need to complete the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).

Search for a GDL now

Ready to find your perfect Graduate Diploma in Law? Begin your search with us now.

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Last updated: 08 November 2021