Which law conversion course should you do?

Clear up your conversion course confusion by reading the guide below with exclusive insights from both a student and staff member at The University of Law.

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A law conversion course is the key qualification that you’ll need if you want to become a solicitor or a barrister and have not studied law for your undergraduate degree. The course condenses the academic law knowledge that you’d usually get from a qualifying law degree into one year, and is designed to get you ready for future professional qualifications and practice. There are a multitude of different types of conversion course, most of which can be studied part time or full time. Read on to find out which one is best for you.

Types of law conversion course available

There are four main types of conversion courses available from The University of Law :

  • The postgraduate diploma in law (PGDL), which was formerly known as the graduate diploma in law (GDL). This is the traditional conversion course that provides you with a formal qualification that demonstrates you have the academic knowledge of law.
  • The MA law (conversion), which provides the same content as the above PGDL, but also allows further academic study into a chosen specialism of law. This also counts as a formal qualification.
  • The MA law (SQE1) includes both of the above, as well as preparing you for the first of the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) assessments. In the same manner as the MA, this is a formal qualification.
  • SQE law essentials is a short ‘crash course’ in the essentials of law prior to undertaking SQE1 preparation. This course does not offer a qualification, but is intended to beef up your legal knowledge in readiness for the examinations.

Both the masters options and the PGDL will provide you with the foundations of legal knowledge, the skills and behaviours for practice and the law of organisations modules, with the MA law (conversion) alone requiring a dissertation before you complete the course. Ultimately, where you want to take your career will determine which course is right for you.

What should you know about law conversion courses?

Each individual’s situation and career goals will be different, so there is no ‘right’ answer to which conversion course will suit you best, but we asked current MA law (conversion) student Edward Peckston, at The University of Law for his thoughts on choosing a course.

Edward graduated with a degree in German from the University of Oxford in 2021, but was set on a career as a solicitor after meeting a local lawyer as part of a careers day at secondary school. He had planned to undertake the GDL (as it was then known) upon graduation but, when the SQE arrived, he changed his plans to accommodate the new qualification. He has just finished the conversion aspect of his MA and successfully obtained a training contract at a major international firm.

‘It's not the same as three years of holistic university study – spending a few years writing essays and going to lectures on things that are not necessarily course related. The conversion course is very, very focused and to the point. It's obviously quite intense, because the nature of the course is putting a few years of studying into one,’ he explains. ‘I went into this with a very strong career focus and then got a training contract in December, which meant that I had a clear goal from January onwards. You do have to be organised and work hard for it – and it's not always for everyone – but as long as you go into it with the mindset that you do need to put a shift in from the outset, and keep organised, you'll get on fine.’

How to choose a law conversion course

The University of Law offers the courses both on-campus aspect and as an online course. As Edward points out, this isn’t necessarily the same as traditional university study. Workshops are there for you to liaise with your tutors who will support you and offer feedback. There are online resources and tools to help you learn as well as pre-course learning materials.

‘In terms of choosing a course provider, I would definitely say look at the locations they offer, the basic stuff such as course content and the course options they have. Think about what you’re studying for the year and ask yourself “am I happy with that? Is that going to get me where I need to be?” For some people in my cohort, they wanted to get the SQE sorted, so they undertook the conversion with SQE and The University of Law provided some qualifying work experience alongside it,’ says Edward.

‘In terms of advice for preparation: use the pre course study materials, because it does help with an understanding of how the study system works. Get yourself a timetable, figure out when you are going to work and try and stick to that, if possible. Don’t forget that if you’re applying for vac schemes or training contracts you will need to factor that time in as well because applications can take a lot of time. Speak to your peers and people who've been through the course as well. I did that and they gave me some really sage advice.’

Law conversion course options to become a solicitor

Any of the four law conversion options listed above can allow you to progress onwards to qualify as a solicitor, but it will depend on the path that you take.

Making the decision can be tough, but sometimes your career path or your natural aptitude can help direct where you need to go.

‘I ended up deciding on the SQE route to future proof myself,’ explains Edward. ‘I saw that with a couple of providers, you could do the masters courses, which would then open up the postgraduate masters loans. The funding made the course viable, because you know that they're expensive courses. I also wanted to do the conversion course with the dissertation as opposed to the MA law (SQE1) just because I like the intellectual exercise.’

As Edward keenly spotted, the MA conversion and the MA SQE1 could allow you to qualify for the government’s postgraduate study loans, while the PGDL does not. If you haven’t got the costs covered by an offer from a law firm, a scholarship or a bursary, the cost may be prohibitive (conversion courses generally cost upwards of £10,000).

Law essentials

The SQE law essentials course from The University of Law takes advantage of the SQE’s omission of the requirement for a formal conversion course qualification by providing a crash course of key legal concepts to prepare candidates prior to their SQE preparation.

We spoke to Peter Goodchild, national programme director of conversion courses at The University of Law, last year about what the course means: ‘I’m still amazed when I say this, but our new SQE Law Essentials course can be completed full time in ten weeks,’ explains Peter. ‘This is very different to the GDL and takes you from not knowing any academic law to knowing the basics of foundational law for the SQE assessments. It doesn’t provide you with the wider skills for law, but does provide you with the academic knowledge for the single-best-answer questions of the SQE1 assessment.’

The law essentials course may be right for you if you feel you can pass the rigorous assessments of the SQE without the formal academic study usually reserved for a degree, but there are a number of things to bear in mind:

  • The law essentials course is new and tailored for the SQE. As such, it prioritises building the knowledge that you’ll require for the challenging multiple choice, single best answer SQE1 assessments over the skills that recruiters are looking for in training contract applications.
  • It cannot be used for the LPC.
  • Some law firms may require a formal conversion course (the PGDL or PGDL as part of an MA) whether you are planning to qualify via the LPC or the SQE – make sure to do your research on law firms prior to starting your course and be aware that requirements may change in future.
  • Some course providers may require a full formal conversion course prior to undertaking SQE preparation courses.

Law conversion course options to become a barrister

The Bar has had its own shake up of qualifications over the past couple of years, but the route remains simple. The Bar requires you to have undertaken qualifying study in law. This can be done as a law degree, a non-law degree followed by a PGDL, or a non-law degree followed by an MA law (conversion). Regardless of how you choose to obtain your academic law background, it will need to be followed by the Bar course (known as the Bar practice course at The University of Law) and then pupillage. There are also options to include the Bar practice course as part of an LLM (a postgraduate degree in law).

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