The Graduate Diploma in Law - GDL CPE or The Law Conversion Course

What is the GDL / Law Conversion Course?

GDL is the abbreviation of the term ‘Graduate Diploma in Law’. This is the course which is taken by graduates of any university degree who wish to become a barrister or solicitor.  

The GDL is the newer version of the traditional Common Professional Examination (CPE) but there is no real difference between the two. Other courses which offer the same law conversion may be known as senior status law degrees, postgraduate LLB’s or GDip (graduate diploma).

Who needs to complete the GDL course?

If you do not study towards a law degree at university but wish to be a solicitor or a barrister before you can proceed to the vocational section of your training by completing either the Legal Practice Course for solicitors or the Bar Vocational Course for barristers, you must first study the GDL.

This is a postgraduate course and therefore you must have already have obtained an undergraduate degree in a subject other than law from an institution based in the United Kingdom or a foreign institution which the governing body, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, considers to be equivalent.

It may also be possible for a student who holds academic and vocational qualifications to study towards the GDL if the Solicitors Regulation Authority deems these qualifications to be equivalent to a degree.

Another possibility is if the student is over 25 and either a member or fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives the Solicitors Regulation Authority may allow entry to the GDL.

Even if you have studied towards a law degree and that degree is not a ‘qualifying law degree’ you must also complete the GDL. A non-qualifying law degree is a degree in which you study law but do not complete the required modules in order for the degree to be ‘qualifying’, these modules include subjects like contract, tort and European Union law.

Who offers the GDL course?

There are now a number of institutions which provide the GDL. These include some universities and some legal course providers. Each will have their own specific entry requirements with regards to the students’ previous grades but a 2:2 is usually the minimum entry requirement. However, a legal career and training is very competitive and many students will have gained a 2:1 or First in their undergraduate degree.

Many institutions offer the GDL in addition to the Legal Practice Course or the Bar Vocational Course so it may be worth considering if you wish to remain at the same institution when you have completed the GDL for your further studies.

Admissions to the course are handled by a central applications board.

How long does the Course last and what do you need to study?

The GDL will generally last one year full time or two years if studying part time.

The GDL focus on the seven areas of the law which are the compulsory subjects for a ‘qualifying law degree’. Typically GDL students will not take many elective modules as all these subjects must be studied in one year.

The seven subjects are:-

  1. Contract Law

  2. Constitutional and Administrative Law

  3. Tort Law

  4. Criminal Law

  5. European Union Law

  6. Land Law

  7. Equity and Trusts.

Whilst studying towards your GDL you will also be given the opportunity to gain general legal analysis skills and have the chance to study another area of law of your choosing.

The course usually consist of lectures, tutorials and coursework with examinations being sat either at the end of the year or half way through the course and then at the end of the year. No matter what the format of the course a large amount of time will be spend in the lecture theatre or in tutorials, more than would usually be found in an undergraduate degree.

Should you study the GDL?

The GDL is a demanding and intense program as the compulsory subjects that are usually spread over a three year law degree have to be mastered in one year. However, if you are not sure that law is the profession you wish to enter and wish to study another degree first this may be the best route for you. The number of solicitors who have studied the GDL rather than an undergraduate law degree is increasing and it is often seen as an advantage to the employer to see that an individual has more skills and knowledge beyond that of the law or legal profession.