Law school: The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC)


Before you can cut your teeth working in law you'll need to learn a little about the practicalities of commercial law - and that means going back to school.

Law school is an essential stepping stone between graduating from university and becoming a trainee at a law firm, and a rite of passage all potential lawyers must complete.

Here's the key information you need about law school.

The GDL: the course you do if you're a non-law graduate

If you have a non-law degree - for example in history - you'll be required to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law (the GDL), which you may have heard referred to as the "law conversion course".

The GDL is a year-long catch-up course that crams in everything you would have learnt in three years if you'd have done an undergraduate degree in law.

It's academically focused, but also introduces students to the practical and vocational skills lawyers need, which you'll develop more when doing the LPC.

The GDL covers what are known as the seven foundational legal subjects: contract law (legal agreements over goods and services), tort law (the law surrounding civil wrongs such as personal injury), equity and trusts (the law surrounding arrangements where one person holds property or rights on behalf of another), land law, criminal law, constitutional and administrative law, and European Union law.

The LPC: the course that gives you the practical skills you'll need

The Legal Practice Course is often viewed as more intense than any other academic qualification students have undertaken before as the course is both academically challenging and introduces you to the demands of a professional workplace.

It's designed to give you further legal knowledge and equip you with the practical skills you need to work in law such as conducting interviews, drafting documents, and applying legislation to real-life situations.

The course is divided into two stages. The first stage introduces students to practising in business law, litigation and property law, while the second stage is made up of electives, where students choose three areas to specialise in.

Larger schools such as the University of Law and BPP have a vast choice of electives, but these are subject to demand in each location.

Choosing a law school

Each school has its own distinctive qualities that you'll need to consider when selecting the right course for you.

City University Law School and Nottingham Law School offer more academic courses, while BPP, Kaplan and The University of Law tend to attract the most students interested in commercial law.

Finally, remember that some schools have exclusive relationships with some City firms, so think carefully about what firm you'd like to train at before applying.

When to apply to law school

If you want to start at law school in the autumn after your graduate, you'll need to apply in the final year of your degree.

Entry requirements are typically a 2:1 or above, although most will make concessions for students with a 2:2 that can show outstanding achievements in other areas.

You'll also need to demonstrate you've taken steps to learn about the legal profession, usually through work experience. If you're a slow burner and haven't done so at university, don't be disheartened though. Plenty of City lawyers have come into the profession after graduating - or even working in another sector.

Funding law school

It's no secret that City lawyers are well-paid, but before you earn the big bucks you'll need cash to get your foot in the door.

The average cost of a GDL in London is £9,700 while the LPC will set you back on average £13,500. Training contracts are the best way to fund your GDL and LPC, as many large firms are willing to stump up the course fees for both, and throw in a maintenance grant too.

If you haven't got a training contract, it doesn't mean that you should give up on law. There are grants, hardship funds, bursaries and scholarships available - but not all cover the cost of fees.

There is also the possibility of taking out a Career Development Loan from Barclays or the Co-operative Bank, but these loans are not offered to GDL students. BPP, courtesy of Investec Bank, is currently offering a Law Loan of up to £25,000 for its full-time GDL students.

Part-time study is also another option, but it will mean you'll have to wait twice as long to qualify.

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