PEAT 1: the qualification you'll need to practise law in Scotland
Olivia Moore, careers development officer at the Law Society of Scotland, talks you through the vocational course all aspiring solicitors and advocates in Scotland need to take before embarking on a traineeship (as Scottish training contracts are known).
Professional education and training stage 1 (PEAT 1) is the postgraduate vocational qualification that all aspiring solicitors and advocates in Scotland must take after sitting the LLB degree (or equivalent) in Scots Law. This course is also known as the diploma in professional legal practice (DPLP). In Scotland, both intending solicitors and advocates (the Scottish term for barristers) complete the same vocational qualification and a period of traineeship. This differs from England and Wales, where the two branches of the profession follow different routes to qualification after the academic stage of training.
Which Scottish universities offer the diploma?
The one-year academic course is offered by six institutions in Scotland:
- the University of Aberdeen
- the University of Dundee
- the University of Edinburgh
- the University of Glasgow
- the Robert Gordon University
- the University of Strathclyde.
The DPLP is also offered part time over two academic years at:
- the University of Dundee
- the University of Glasgow
- Robert Gordon University
- the University of Strathclyde
- the University of Edinburgh (subject to demand).
While the total number of places available at diploma providers generally exceeds the final demand for places, some individual course providers can be oversubscribed.
What will I learn on the Scottish diploma?
The timetable for the DPLP is very full in comparison with many undergraduate courses. The emphasis is on learning practical skills for the legal profession, so there are a large number of contact hours, many in small seminar groups, workshops and tutorials. In addition, you are expected to spend a considerable number of hours a week on coursework and preparing for participation in practical classes.
The structure of the current DPLP course comprises up to 50 per cent elective courses (compared to very little flexibility in the past). Much of the teaching is designed to simulate transactions and is given by practising advocates, solicitors and accountants who will bring their expertise in current professional practice into the classroom. Teaching methods include a mixture of tutorials, lectures, group-based projects and skills workshops. Many courses will use delivery methods that allow for students to be introduced to several IT packages, or use a mock-firm simulation to mimic aspects of the legal working environment. Assessment is by a combination of examinations and coursework. The balance between these will vary depending on modules and the institution.
When should I apply for the diploma?
Applications for the DPLP generally open in February, with the closing date towards the end of April. For exact dates, confirm with the university you are applying to. You apply for the DPLP in the year that you want to commence the course; it is not possible to defer a place but you can reapply in a future year without this disadvantaging you in any way.
Applications are dealt with centrally by the diploma providers and the process usually involves completing a standardised form, although some universities may have additional information you need to complete. We recommend you check with your LLB provider for clarification about this. The Law Society of Scotland also issues an annual guidance note on its website containing the up-to-date information.
All places for the DPLP will be offered on the condition that you hold an LLB from an accredited provider, which will usually be a Scottish university (except those who have undertaken a pre-PEAT traineeship).
Allocation for DPLP places works the same way for each provider and is based on the results obtained in the core subjects required by the Law Society of Scotland. You can confirm with your LLB provider what these subjects are. Results are based on marks obtained in the first sitting of each examination. These subjects are most commonly studied in the first two years of the LLB, so it is vital to hit the ground running in the first year of your degree. Once again, check with your university for more information on this. This can then be moderated (up or down) by the class and type of degree obtained, overall number of failed subjects at undergraduate level, other qualifications and special circumstances affecting the academic performance of individual students.
Where applicants have extremely similar academic records, an offer of a traineeship at the time of applying for a diploma place may also be taken into account. If you are not successful in obtaining a place at your first-choice DPLP provider, you will be put onto a waiting-list and, subsequently, you may be offered a place by alternative DPLP providers.
How can I fund my DPLP law course?
A loan system is provided by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS, see www.saas.gov.uk) and successful applicants to the diploma who meet eligibility criteria now apply through the SAAS for a tuition fee loan towards the cost of fees. For those commencing DPLP in 2020, the Scottish government has confirmed that loans of up to £10,000 are available for any full-time taught postgraduate courses. This comprises a tuition fee loan of up to £5,500 and a non-income assessed maintenance loan of £4,500. These loans must be repaid once you are in employment and earning above the student loan repayment threshold (currently £19,390). Up-to-date information about loans and how to apply is available at www.saas.gov.uk.
Course fees vary so students should check with individual institutions for exact costs, but UK and European students will be paying between £7,000 and £9,170 for course fees in 2020/21. Costs for materials (from £200 upwards) are sometimes in addition to this fee. Students tend to make up the shortfall through a variety of means, including career development loans, part-time work, family contributions and savings. Grants and trusts can sometimes be available, eg the Clark Foundation for Legal Education or bursaries available at the university you are studying at; students are encouraged to check the Law Society of Scotland website for more information on grants and the route to qualification at www.lawscot.org.uk/qualifying-and-careers.
What graduate job will I do post-diploma?
The Law Society publishes traineeship statistics each year to provide an indication of the employment market for those embarking on the path to the DPLP and traineeship. There has been a cautious optimism in many parts of the legal profession since 2011 generally with traineeship numbers steadily increasing, but students without traineeships at the start of the DPLP need to be aware that they remain in a competitive market, particularly given the current uncertainty around the impact of Brexit and, more recently, Covid-19.
What are my chances of getting a traineeship?
An award of the DPLP means you are eligible to commence a traineeship, provided you also meet the Law Society of Scotland’s ‘fitness and properness’ requirements. However, a DPLP does not guarantee a traineeship and the application process often commences as early as third year during the full honours LLB degree.
While the number of traineeships registered over the past several years has been steady, the number of students undertaking the DPLP has spiked at times, which has kept competition high. Universities have opened up more places for the DPLP, but opportunities with employers have not risen at the same rate. In the practice year 2018/19 when 591 traineeships were registered, 649 students commenced the DPLP. The Law Society of Scotland’s statistics show that as a three-year average, the number of traineeships is around 85% of the number of DPLP places, which gives us a good idea of the proportion of DPLP students who obtain a traineeship.
TARGETjobs Law would like to thank Olivia Moore, careers development officer at the Law Society of Scotland, for her help with this article.