A law conversion course is the first step into a career as a solicitor or barrister for graduates whose first degree is not law. The courses are intensive since they bring non-law graduates up to speed with law graduates in one year (two years if taken part time or as an MA). Successful completion of the course qualifies graduates for entry onto the Bar professional training course (BPTC) or legal practice course (LPC).
Non-law graduates are in demand by the legal profession because of the fresh perspective on legal problems that they bring. Whether your background is in languages (particularly useful for organisations handling international work such as multinational commercial transactions, aviation and shipping claims), the arts, science (particularly useful for organisations handling patents and intellectual property work) or engineering, you are welcomed.
GDL, CPE, MA... what’s in a name?
Courses recognised as conversion courses come with a variety of names. ‘There is no real difference between the common professional examination (CPE) and the newer graduate diploma in law (GDL) as both have modernised in recent years,’ states Julian Davies, director of GDL and LLB programmes at BPP University College. The ‘common’ in common professional examination stems from the fact that the course is common to both aspiring solicitors and barristers. Other titles you might come across include senior status law degree, LLB, PgDL or GDip (standing for graduate diploma). ‘At some institutions it’s possible to convert the GDL into an LLB following additional study,’ Julian adds. MAs are slightly different in that they tend to last for two years, full time, and as such go into greater depth. The course includes an introduction to the English legal system and basic legal research skills. There are seven foundation subjects that are compulsory:
- Obligations (including contract law, restitution and tort)
- Criminal law
- Public law (including constitutional law, administrative law and human rights)
- Property law
- Equity and law of trusts
- Law of the European Union.
Students pick one further area of law in which to specialise. This is usually referred to as ‘the other area of law’. Courses are monitored by the CPE/GDL Board.
Applications to law conversion courses
The Central Applications Board (CAB) administers an online system for processing full time applications for the LPC and GDL.
You can apply online at www.lawcabs.ac.uk. You must sell yourself on the application form, giving convincing reasons for choosing a legal career, outlining your aspirations and offering evidence of your commitment to the profession. Applications for part-time and distance-learning courses should be made directly to the relevant institution; the closing date is usually in February. Applicants should normally expect to achieve a 2.2 at first degree level. Alternative equivalent qualifications that are considered are listed on the CAB website.
Top tips for choosing your law conversion course
- Don't rush into anything. Conversion courses are intensive and you’ll need a lot of drive and self discipline to do well. ‘Consider your motivation for a career in law carefully before you apply,’ recommends Julian Davies, director of GDL and LLB programmes at BPP Law School. ‘While prior legal work experience isn’t essential, getting some before you start the course is highly recommended and will help you to confirm your interest in the profession.’
- Choose carefully – look at the structure, content, teaching and assessment methods of prospective courses. Each provider has freedom to tackle these aspects in their own preferred way.
- In recent years there has been a move towards continuous assessment and an increased focus on coursework and mooting. Mooting is the discussion of a hypothetical case as part of an academic exercise. Some providers promote specialist workshops and skills groups as a means of learning, others mention open seminars, small tutorial groups or assessment by ‘open book’ examinations.
- Visit institutions to meet students, lecturers and view the facilities.
- Get some legal work experience before you start the course to confirm your interest in the profession.
- Consider part-time courses if funding is an issue. You can gain relevant work experience whilst you study part time and spread the cost of course fees. The growing use of web technology means that access to resources for part-time study or distance learning is now better than ever. For instance, electronic versions of library materials are now common, many providers also make seminars and lectures available as podcasts - and at some institutions students can even attend sessions virtually.