Convert to law with a graduate diploma

Convert to law with a graduate diploma

Law conversion courses such as the graduate diploma in law teach you the key subjects covered on law degrees.

A law conversion course is the first step into a career as a solicitor or barrister for graduates whose first degree is not law. The courses are intensive since they bring non-law graduates up to speed with law graduates in one year (two years if taken part time or as an MA). Successful completion of the course qualifies graduates for entry onto the Bar vocational course or the legal practice course.

Non-law graduates are in demand by the legal profession because of the fresh perspective on legal problems that they bring. Whether your background is in languages (particularly useful for organisations handling international work such as multinational commercial transactions, aviation and shipping claims), the arts, science (particularly useful for organisations handling patents and intellectual property work) or engineering, you are welcomed.

GDL, CPE, MA... what's in a name?

Courses recognised as conversion courses come with a variety of names. There is no real difference between the traditional common professional examination (CPE) and the newer graduate diploma in law (GDL) as both have modernised in recent years.

Other titles you might come across include senior status law degree, postgraduate LLB, or GDip (standing for graduate diploma). MAs are slightly different in that they tend to last for two years, full time, and as such go into greater depth.

The 'common' in common professional examination stems from the fact that the course is common to both aspiring solicitors and barristers. The course includes an introduction to the English legal system and basic legal research skills. There are seven foundation subjects that are compulsory:

  • Law of contract
  • Law of tort
  • Criminal law
  • Public law
  • Land law
  • Equity and trusts
  • Law of the European Union.

Students pick one further area of law in which to specialise. This is usually referred to as 'the other area of law'. Courses are monitored by the CPE Board.

How to apply for a law conversion courses

Applications for full-time courses should be made to the Central Applications Board (CAB). An online application is the preferred method, although you can obtain a hard copy of the form and guidance notes by writing or telephoning the CAB. Full instructions and contact details can be found on their website at You must sell yourself on the application form, giving convincing reasons for choosing a legal career, outlining your aspirations and offering evidence of your commitment to the profession.

Applications for part-time and distance-learning courses should be made directly to the relevant institution. Applicants should normally expect to achieve a 2.2 at first degree level. Alternative equivalent qualifications that are considered are listed on the Central Applications Board (CAB) website.

Top tips for choosing your course

  • Choose carefully – look at the structure, content, teaching and assessment methods of prospective courses. Each provider has freedom to tackle these aspects in their own preferred way.
  • In recent years there has been a move towards continuous assessment and an increased focus on coursework and mooting. Mooting is the discussion of a hypothetical case as part of an academic exercise. Some providers promote specialist workshops and skills groups as a means of learning, others mention open seminars, small tutorial groups or assessment by 'open book' examinations.
  • Visit institutions to meet students, lecturers and view the facilities.
  • These are intensive courses: consider your motivation for a career in law and your self-discipline carefully before you apply.
  • Get some legal work experience before you start the course to confirm your interest in the profession.

Consider part-time courses if funding is an issue. The provision of online resources is also growing for those who wish to study by distance learning. Although this method of learning is still in its infancy it looks set to grow as course providers exploit web technology. You can gain relevant work experience while you study part time and spread the cost of course fees.