Graduate Diploma in Law

Graduate Diploma in Law: The fast-track alternative to studying law at university

Since its introduction in 1977 the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) has become an extremely popular entry route into law. The fast-track alternative offers students the opportunity to study another subject they are passionate about, without compromising their goal of becoming a solicitor or barrister.

Since its introduction in 1977 the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) has become an extremely popular entry route into law. The fast-track alternative offers students the opportunity to study another subject they are passionate about, without compromising their goal of becoming a solicitor or barrister. It’s often looked upon favourably by employers, as studying the intensive course provides students with excellent time management and prioritisation skills, as well as building resilience and commitment within the individual.

As thousands of undergraduates across the country take on their first term of their law degree, we thought we’d develop a comprehensive guide of this intensive, fast-track alternative, covering what the course entails, where you can study and top tips for both prospective and current students.


The GDL explained

The GDL – or Common Professional Examination (CPE) as it is sometimes known – is a conversion course available to postgraduate students from any degree discipline. The course covers the foundations of legal knowledge required for completion of the academic stage of training.

During the course you’ll study eight key topics, providing you with a comprehensive overview of the English and Welsh legal system. These topics include:

  •  Contract law
  •  Tort Law
  •  Criminal Law
  •  Constitutional & Administrative Law
  •  Land Law
  •  Equity & Trusts
  •  Law of the European Union

You will be assessed by a 30 minute multiple choice question (MCQ) open book examination on Legal Method, a closed book three hour exam for each of the seven foundation subject modules and two pieces of research based coursework.

There are plenty of institutions across the UK that offer the GDL – the Solicitors Regulation Authority offers a comprehensive list of course providers – in a variety of study modes. The most common is the intensive one-year course, however there are opportunities to study both part-time and via distance learning. Applications are similar to your undergraduate degrees, however instead of using UCAS they’re completed [either] via the Central Applications Board.


Top tips for studying

Whether you opt to study the GDL full-time or part-time, be prepared for an intense workload. Since you’re essentially condensing around 3-4 years of complex legal knowledge into a comprehensive course, it’s unsurprising that it’s full on. However, here are five top tips to manage and even enjoy the GDL:

  1.     Time management is essential

Most students find themselves easily overwhelmed by the sheer depth and quantity of content in the GDL course. There are typically a high number of contact hours and missing any one of these can have an impact of the fluidity of your course. In order to balance your seminars, lectures, coursework and social life effectively, it’s essential that you adopt good time management skills.

Take advantage of Google Calendars, to-do lists, organisation apps, any manner of technology or stationery that allows you to map out your timetable so you always have a clear understanding of what’s going on, as well as what needs to be done. This process will not only help you stay on track to achieve your desired grade, but also help you avoid burnout and unnecessary stress.

  1.     Treat it like a job

To treat your GDL like a job means you should treat your studies as your routine: stay committed, working hard week by week in order to maintain momentum. The GDL can be studied on a flexible course plan including two-day, four-day or part-time contact hours. This means that much of your time will require self-discipline to keep up with your heavy workload. The earlier you can establish a successful routine and good working practice, the better for your GDL and future legal career.

In addition to this routine, you should also allow yourself time off, as you would with any 9-5 job. Give yourself time to relax at the weekends; see friends and family and enjoy a break from your otherwise busy schedule. This attitude towards your GDL course will allow you to manage and even enjoy your studies.

  1.    Make use of your tutors and peers

You may not have made the most of your tutors throughout your undergraduate study, but it’s definitely worth establishing a relationship with them throughout your GDL course. Being a demanding course, you might start to feel overwhelmed, especially if you’ve failed to understand something in the module. Instead of suffering internally, it’s important to communicate with your tutors, ask questions and let them know when you’re struggling. As you will likely be allocated the same classmates for the duration of the course, it is also helpful to discuss course materials or difficult topics with your classmates between or after lectures, and even perhaps hold study groups together. This communication will help alleviate some of your stress, as well as helping you to properly understand your course content so you can pass your essential exams and apply this knowledge in the future.

  1.     Take advantage of mock examinations and practice papers

Exams are an important part of your course and throughout the year you’ll be presented with various opportunities to practice. Coming from another degree discipline, it can take some time to get used to a new writing style and mark scheme, so it’s important to tackle practice questions early on.

We’d also advise you treat every practice paper as a proper examination – i.e. practice under timed conditions. Your GDL is unlikely to resemble your undergraduate degree, so it’s important to familiarise yourself with both the mark scheme and proper exam conditions.

  1.     Don’t panic

Throughout this article we’ve stressed the intensity of the GDL course, but it’s important not to panic. If you’ve chosen to undertake the GDL, the likelihood is that you’re passionate about pursuing a legal career. In which case, if your course starts to seem stressful, take some time to remember why you’re studying. Remember your passion and motivations for pursuing a career in law. By recalling the bigger picture, it can help calm you down and keep you focused on the task at hand.

Written by Priya Patel, Trainee Solicitor at Lawrence Stephens Solicitors.

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