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The Benefits of the Graduate Diploma in Law

About The Author

Alex Goldenberg (Guest Contributor)

Alex graduated from the University of Nottingham with a BA in History and Politics. She is currently volunteering at the Haringey Migrant Centre, working with asylum seekers and refugees. Alex will begin her GDL at the University of Law in January 2015.

Studying law or pursuing a legal career can provide abundant transferable skills as well as knowledge of legislation. Internationally, with political titans such as Jack Lew, the former White House Chief of Staff, and Sarah Bloom Ruskin, the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury in the US, holding law degrees and experience, a legal education certainly seems to pave the way to success. This is also apparent here in Britain with successful public figures beginning their careers in law; for instance, Tony Blair was a barrister at 11 Kings Bench Walk before entering the political arena and Helena Kennedy has championed and pushed for women’s rights throughout her legal career and now in her position as a member of the House of Lords. Such examples show that a law degree does not necessarily confine a graduate to a career in law. 

Not having studied the traditional three or four-year undergraduate LLB does not necessarily exclude the pursuit of a legal career. Many law firms are willing to accept applications from those of any degree discipline who then go on to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). For instance, almost half of Linklater’s current trainees opted for the GDL route, demonstrating how the legal profession has opened up for people who did not initially undertake a law degree. Such increased accessibility arguably benefits both students and their future employers: many students do not have a firm career plan upon entering further education at the age of 18, and solicitors’ firms and barristers’ chambers would not want to miss out on potentially talented lawyers just because they happened to decide to enter the profession later than others.

Personally, I have no regrets at having done my first degree in something other than law. Although I am a History and Politics graduate, I have always wanted to work within the field of human rights. However, at the age of 18 I did not know the benefits of having a law degree in this industry and so opted to study subjects I enjoyed and that I felt would give me a variety of options in the future. Having now graduated, I have made the decision to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law, which I begin in January.

In this article I will explore some of the advantages of undertaking the GDL, and some of the issues that must be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to do so.

Greater Choice in Your Degree

One of the most significant advantages of taking the GDL route into a legal career is that you have greater freedom over your choice of degree. GDL students often have their first degrees in a diverse range of subjects, including the humanities and sciences. For example, my choice of undergraduate degree enabled me to study something which I was passionate about to a higher level. I believe that wider knowledge gained during my degree, such as knowledge of the historical context which framed legislative changes regarding, for instance, women’s and LGBT rights, has given me a broad understanding of the socio-political climates that drive the law: an awareness that I may not have, had I studied an undergraduate LLB. 

Lord Sumption JSC has expressed a similar view by stating that better lawyers come from other undergraduate degrees because it gives them a better 'general culture' that undergraduate law students may lack.

Moreover, undertaking the GDL may enable graduates who do not necessarily wish to pursue the “traditional” legal careers of solicitor or barrister to access other areas of work. For example, when I finished University this June I began volunteering at a local migrant centre which offered support to asylum seekers and refugees. The work that I did here was extremely interesting, however difficulties often arose due to the limited support that staff members were legally able to give without being a qualified solicitor or barrister. There are many careers like this where a legal qualification would be of substantial benefit, including working with trades unions, advisory work with organisations like Citizens Advice Bureau and Shelter.

Funding

The GDL can be expensive, with fees around the £10,000 mark. However there are funding opportunities to explore. As there is no post-graduate funding from the government for the course one has to look into other options. Firstly, it is worth looking into whether your institution offers any scholarships. For example, Northumbria offer “substantial” discounts for alumni, and Westminster University offer up to 15% off of postgraduate course fees for alumni.

Some institutions have options for students to take out loans, for example the University of Law works alongside the Metro Bank which offers a Professional Studies loan to their students of up to £25,000.

Most notably, sponsorship can also be found from law firms such as Dentons and Fieldfisher (among many others); it is important to remember that such sponsorship is also only available to future trainees of the sponsoring firm, which makes a training contract an even more lucrative procurement. The amount of money available through sponsorship of this kind can also be dependent upon location. For example, in addition to the cost of the course being covered, Ashurst LLP offers £8,000 in London and £7,000 outside of London for maintenance costs. These amounts mirror the higher cost of living associated with living in London such as significantly higher rent and transport costs.

If you are planning on entering the Bar there is a possibility of receiving a grant or scholarship from the Inns of Court. These are rewarded on merit, with financial need taken in to account by some of the Inns.

Aside from these examples, high street banks Barclays and The Co-operative offer Professional and Career Development Loans.

Where to Study

Taking into consideration the expense of the GDL, both in the fees themselves and in hidden course costs such as books, it is critical to make the right decision about where to study.

If it is possible to live at home and study then this can really alleviate huge costs. This is not always so simple however, with some firms giving preference to students studying at certain institutions, such as the University of Law or BPP University. As previously stated, many firms also sponsor students for the GDL and LPC, however they can also restrict the choice of location of where these courses are to be completed.

There is also a choice to be made between undertaking the GDL at a private university such as those mentioned above or a more traditional university. This decision would largely depend upon the experience the potential GDL student was seeking. For instance, there could be a more typical student feel to studying at a traditional institution, such as Sussex University over institutions such as BPP University.

Part-Time Work

Whether you can balance study and work, as well as financing both the course and living is something which needs to be taken into consideration when undertaking the course. The GDL is very intense so it limits the amount of part-time work you can do outside of it. However, working part time throughout your course may be necessary, considering the lack of postgraduate funding available. It is possible, at some institutions, to defer starting the GDL until January, rather than starting in September, allowing time to work and save money.

Further Study

Another major factor in deciding whether to do the GDL is whether to continue studying at all. Recent graduates may have been in continuous education for the past seventeen years, and many people could feel that their first degree is enough. It must also be taken into consideration that for those wishing to qualify as solicitors or barristers, the GDL is not the end of the line, as there are also the LPC and BPTC courses which need to be completed. Many providers allow students to commence studying the GDL in September or January. If you are anxious about heading straight back into education, a January start could give you an extended summer to relax, travel, complete work experience or save some money.

Of course many people would not be entering the GDL right after completing their first degree, and could decide to undertake it after obtaining some work experience. For some people undertaking the GDL part time or through an online route is far easier, as it allows for time to work elsewhere whilst studying or taking care of other commitments. I would suggest that taking into consideration the cost and the dedication the course requires, it would not be worth undertaking unless you were certain that this is the route for you.

Certainty

I chose to apply for the GDL after I had completed my undergraduate degree and had been given my final mark. Whilst there were some of my class mates who were already applying before graduation and making me feel a bit nervous about waiting to make up my mind, I am glad that I took the time to decide. For those applying who are fresh out of university or still in university, it is easy to get caught up in the stress and pressure of the final months of studying where everyone is trying to decide what they will do after graduation. However there are very little drawbacks to taking your time, because that way the choice to do the GDL is a conscious and carefully considered choice. Moreover, as the GDL is a choice which is made after completing a first degree, it shows a level of commitment and decision making which may be impressive to law firms. 

The GDL is a massive commitment; not only does it mean jumping back into studying, it is also an expensive decision to make. Whilst I am nervous to begin this new chapter of my life, I know that it will be extremely beneficial to me in the long run and so I am excited to begin.

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Tagged: Legal Careers

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