’What is an LLM?’ and other questions about law postgraduate study
Last updated: 1 Oct 2023, 15:29
PGDL or GCL? LLM, MA in law or an MPhil? Discover the range of postgraduate courses open to you in law, typical entry requirements and how to decide which course is right for you.
There is a huge variety of law-focused postgraduate courses open to both law and non-law graduates. Which is best depends on what you want to achieve – and which mode of study suits you best. In this article, we guide you through your options and key considerations:
- Good and bad reasons to pursue postgraduate study
- LLM, MA, PGDL and GDL: acronyms explained
- Law conversion course: FAQs answered
- Masters for law graduates: FAQs answered
- Course fees and funding options
- Choosing a course and place of study
- Postgraduate study in Scotland
You can browse law course providers on targetjobs.
Non-law graduates wishing to qualify as barristers must complete an approved conversion course before the Bar course .
Non-law graduates aspiring to become solicitors are either required to undertake a conversion course if following the legal practice course (LPC) qualification route* or strongly advised to do so under the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) route . In fact, many law firms that sponsor non-law graduates through the SQE route insist upon it. Some course providers also have it as an entry requirement for their SQE preparation study programmes.
Law graduates can complete a masters degree with the aim of consolidating their expertise in an area of law, perhaps because they are passionate about the subject or to boost their employment prospects in law or a related career field. They might also complete an LLM as a way to start undertaking SQE training and gaining qualifying work experience (QWE) – or to start on a career in academic research.
If you are a law graduate, however, bear in mind that pursuing a masters should not be a fallback option if you don’t know what else to do. A masters degree can be costly and is hard work, so you need genuine commitment and interest in the subject for it to be worth the expense. In addition, the belief that doing a masters can make up for poor degree results by demonstrating that you do have academic ability is usually a false one. Most law firms and chambers look for a consistent academic record, so having an LLM will not erase the fact that you only just scraped a 2.2.
- LLM: master of law. A taught masters level degrees designed to provide specialist knowledge in one area of law. It is usually taught through a mixture of lectures and seminars with a dissertation in the final term.
- MA: master of arts. This can be taught or research-based. An MA is likely to be more general than an LLM and may not be automatically recognised as a law degree by the Solicitors Regulation Authority or the Bar Council when studied in combination with another subject (see below).
- MPhil and PhD: master of philosophy and doctor of philosophy. These are specialised research degrees, typically lasting two to four years. A PhD requires significant original contribution to the academic discipline, whereas an MPhil requires a less substantial thesis. An LLM is often required for entry on to these courses.
- GDL and PGDL: graduate diploma in law and postgraduate diploma in law . These are most typically conversion course qualifications and incorporate masters-level academic study without the dissertation (see below).
What law conversion courses are there and what’s the difference between a GDL and a PGDL?
Recognised conversion courses have many names. These include the graduate diploma in law (GDL), which is otherwise known common professional examination (CPE). It was the main conversion course for the LPC qualifying route and for the Bar course and is still available. However, some course providers are offering a postgraduate diploma in law (PGDL) instead, which is centred around SQE requirements but should also be suitable for the Bar course.
Other conversion courses are offered as masters degrees, usually either as an LLM or an MA in law. Some of these masters courses also include top-up preparation for either one or both of the SQE assessments.
Another way of converting to law is to undertake an LLB (bachelor of laws) qualification through an accelerated senior status degree route. It is essentially an intensively taught law degree, which is aimed at non-law graduates who wish to gain a qualifying law degree in two years rather than three.
What do I study on the PGDL or another law conversion course?
To meet the requirements of the Bar Council (and for the LPC route*), a law conversion course must cover the seven foundations of legal knowledge:
- criminal law
- equity and trusts
- EU law (in context)
- contract law
- tort law
- land law
- public law (constitutional, administrative and human rights).
When comparing courses, study the module breakdowns carefully. You will likely find that PGDLs designed for the SQE cover these areas too as an essential grounding in law, but it is worth confirming.
How long does a conversion course take?
Course duration varies according to how you study and the content of the course, but in general the GDL and masters courses take around a year full time (two years for the MA), while it may be possible to study the PGDL intensively in eight months when done full time.
What are the entry requirements for law conversion courses?
These vary according to the institution, but for UK students the main requirement for a GDL or PGDL is typically a 2.2 bachelors degree. Entry requirements for senior status degrees can be stricter, eg a 2.1 degree.
How do I apply for a law conversion course?
Applications for full-time law conversion courses, including the PGDL and GDL, are made through a centralised application system ( lawcabs.ac.uk ). Applications for part-time courses are made directly to the course provider. You can typically apply for courses from the October each year, but deadlines vary according to course providers. The earlier you apply, the better.
Advice on postgraduate study from the University of Law
What masters courses are available in law?
There are many taught masters open to law undergraduates and those who have undertaken a conversion course: most usually LLMs but also MAs in law.
Some LPCs* and Bar courses are offered as LLMs, allowing you to gain a masters qualification at the same time as your vocational qualification. Similarly, many of the SQE preparatory study programmes run by course providers allow LLB graduates to take extra credit to gain an LLM, so law graduates can gain the postgraduate status while also qualifying as a solicitor via the new route, too.
Other LLMs are focused on gaining further specialist knowledge: for example, you could do an LLM in commercial or immigration law. Some bring together two subject disciplines, such as business and law. Some LLMs courses promise you a certain amount of QWE, setting you on the way to passing your SQE.
How long do law masters courses take to study?
Typically, masters are one year full time and two years part-time, although some MA in law conversion courses are two years full time.
What is the difference between an LLM and an MA in law?
Generally, an LLM in law is more specialist than an MA in law. If you specialise in one particular type of law. it may well give you additional knowledge to help you specialise in that area of legal practice after you qualify as a solicitor or barrister. It is also testament to your intellectual capabilities, evidence of which is particularly sought-after by top firms and chambers
When combined as a joint subject, an MA in law may not be recognised as a qualifying law degree by the Solicitors Regulation Authority or the Bar Council if you seek to become a practising solicitor or barrister (so do check before applying). However, it is still a masters-level qualification, develops your legal skills and knowledge, and may be particularly valuable in preparing you for careers outside of law but where legal knowledge is useful, such as public policy or international relations.
What are the entry requirements for a masters degree in law?
The individual entry requirements on course listings vary, but it isn’t uncommon for the admissions tutors of LLMs and masters in law courses to stipulate a minimum of a 2.1 in law.
How do I apply for an LLM or MA in law?
For full-time LLMs related to the LPC or SQE, you apply via lawcabs.ac.uk . Otherwise, you apply directly to the course provider.
Fees for a full-time taught or research postgrad can vary: typical costs for UK students are around £9,000 to £20,000. Follow our advice for finding funding:
- Check with the institution for the scholarships and grants they offer. Some universities offer awards to students continuing their studies at the same institution, while some are available for graduates from elsewhere.
- The Inns of Court offer support for aspiring barristers undertaking the conversion and Bar courses.
- Many law firms will pay for their trainees’ conversion course/LPC/SQE preparation (firms often recruit two years in advance). Browse solicitors’ firms on targetjobs and compare what support they offer.
- Some chambers will allow you advance you money from your pupillage award (earnings) the year before, which could be used to fund your Bar course. Browse chambers profiles on targetjobs to see what’s on offer at individual sets.
- Trusts and charities sometimes provide grants, often for students from underrepresented backgrounds or those who have achieved academic excellence. Ask your careers service for directories to help identify them.
- Awards from Research Councils are the main source of funding for research students. See ukri.org for details.
- For research students, postgraduate teaching posts are useful ways to earn some money and fees can sometimes be offset against earnings.
- Postgraduate students can apply for a postgraduate masters or postgraduate doctoral loan from the government. There are eligibility conditions: visit gov.uk for more details.
- Think about which study method suits you best: do you learn well via an online course and distance learning or do you perform better in a classroom environment?
- Check out the course providers’ facilities and, if you are not already being sponsored by a law firm or secured a pupillage, their connections with employers.
- Discuss further study options with your tutors and ask professors in your law faculty for their thoughts (even if you aren’t studying law)
- Attend postgraduate information fairs, run from October to January by a number of universities, and ‘getting into postgrad’ sessions run by your careers service.
- Check the value of your course with potential employers (for instance at law careers fairs) to make sure that it puts you on the right track for employment.
- Contact the course director or admissions tutor for details of what previous students have gone on to do.
- See if you can speak to a current student on the course to get an insider’s view. The admissions team should be able to put you in touch with current students who are happy to talk to you. Alternatively, you could try identifying and reaching out to them on LinkedIn – here’s how .
The academic requirement for qualifying as a solicitor or advocate in Scotland is a bachelors of laws (LLB), but non-law graduates can study it via a two-year accelerated route. All students then need to pass the diploma in professional legal practice or DPLP (the vocational component) before moving on to a traineeship (the work-based component).
However, LLB students can progress to an LLM (or a postgraduate certificate/diploma). Some LLM students then go on to take the DPLP and qualify as a lawyer, while others call upon their further knowledge of the law in a different career or go into academia.
*Note that many of the top law firms have switched to the SQE route to qualification and no longer support the LPC route, so new students may not wish to study the LPC. The University of Law has a good guide to what current LPC students should do next (note: the article is an advertising feature).