Like the idea of law but don’t have a law degree? I’ll let you into a little secret…
It’s fair to say that law had always been on the back burner for me. Throughout school it was bordering on a fait accompli: ‘Oh you like arguing, you’ll go into law, won’t you?’ was the sort of thing that was regularly leveled in my direction. But when it came to university applications, aged 17, I struggled with the thought of making a decision to study something that I would go on to spend my days working in. I was 17; I had better things to do than make important career decisions. And so with a growing interest in Hume and Kant from my A-Level philosophy syllabus, and the half-baked idea that I might learn the sort of stuff that makes me sound clever around girls, I went and did a philosophy degree.
Sadly, whilst I was right in that my interest in philosophy was genuine, I was sometimes disappointed by the poor pulling power of Wittgenstein.
However, as I neared the end of my degree, the niggling thought of law as a career moved from the backburner and lodged itself firmly at the forefront of my mind. The more I researched, the more I knew I wanted to pursue a career as a barrister. I realised that it was something I could excel in, something well suited to my skill set, something I could be happy doing. The one problem? My lack of a qualifying English law degree.
But this problem was far easier to overcome than my bookish awkwardness around the fairer gender: the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is aimed at people in exactly my position. For those who have completed an undergraduate degree in any discipline that isn’t law, and have at least a 2:2, there are a number of English universities that allow students to complete the requisite 7 core law modules in one year. This gives them a qualification which, when paired with their initial degree, is equivalent to a standard law degree. I chose to attend the Birmingham centre of BPP University as it has an excellent reputation and is close to my family home, but the course is largely standardised and so the material covered is generally similar across providers.
The course consists of the following modules: Criminal Law, Land Law, Equity & Trusts, EU Law, Tort Law, Contract Law and Constitutional & Administrative Law. The work covered is varied in content, unfaltering in intensity, and very fast paced, as there is a great deal to get through in the time. There is an emphasis on self-study which exceeds that of even the most diligent arts student’s timetable. Almost certainly, this is because the material covered will be used in practice, and so needs enshrining in memory at this point so as to facilitate immediate recall later on.
Aside from the core modules, most of which are examined in the summer, there is a 4,000-word independent research project, and exams in case and statutory analysis too. There is always a huge pile of reading material, and lots of work to complete between weekly lectures and tutorials for each module. This means that for the few short months spent studying for this qualification, you live, breath, eat and sleep law – in fact I have only looked up from this week’s workload to write this piece. They say there’s no rest for the wicked, and prospective lawyers are certainly no exception.
Now, the question of whether all this hard work is worthwhile is probably what you were skimming through this article in search of. The worry concerning competing for jobs against students with law degrees need not bother you at all; it is evident from browsing the personnel on any chambers’ or firm’s website that there is no discrimination against the GDL, it is the norm to find equal numbers of law degrees and graduate diplomas on the resumés of those working there. In fact, the GDL is so intense and those taking it are often so set on working hard for success in the legal sphere that they are very attractive to legal recruiters and prospective employers. They really are seen as equivalent qualifications.
In terms of financing your study, prospective solicitors are eligible to apply for training contracts prior to commencing any formal legal study, and many of those will fund the GDL and subsequent LPC course too. Prospective barristers (myself included) have fewer options available, although each of the Inns of Court offers generous scholarship schemes to bear some of the financial burden. There are also law loans available from a number of high street banks, some of which have deals with individual course providers. However you go about financing your study, you should take solace in the fact that you will have the chance to earn well once you begin to practice and so this investment in your future is definitely a wise one.
Clearly, The GDL route is not the quickest, or the cheapest route to a legal career. As already touched on, it is an additional year following completion of an undergraduate degree, and there are further qualifications to be gained afterwards in order to qualify as a barrister or a solicitor (namely the Legal Practice Course or the Bar Professional Training Course). But, if you’re not completely set on law at undergraduate level, that additional year is a small price to pay for the extra time you are given to ensure your decision to go for law is the right one.
I am certain that my decision was the right one, in spite of the fact I still haven’t found a way of sounding clever in front of girls. For me the GDL has set me on a career path towards a career I am deeply driven to succeed in, and I am sure my contemporaries on the course feel similarly. So, if you have a degree, if you’re willing to invest in your future, and if you’ll graft to make it worth it, the GDL is most certainly your cup of tea.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to that pile of books…
By Sam Cuthbert, recent University of Durham Graduate, and aspiring Barrister.