Thinking of taking a law conversion course? A guide to the CPE and GDL

A guide to the CPE and GDL

The main options that you have when considering a law conversion course are the common professional examination (CPE) and the graduate diploma in law (GDL, sometimes referred to as GDip).

These are essentially fast-track courses, teaching wannabe solicitors and barristers who did not study a law undergraduate degree all the basics for a legal career in England and Wales. They both take one year of further study (or two if you’re studying part time).

These are the fundamental courses that then allow non-law graduates to progress into further study on either the legal practice course (LPC) if you’re looking to become a solicitor or the Bar professional training course (BPTC) if you want to be a barrister. The course will cost you somewhere between £4,950 and £10,600.

What’s the difference between the CPE and the GDL?

There isn’t any significant difference between the two, with the distinction coming down to semantics – some CPE courses offer a diploma as an official qualification, hence the title GDL. Course content is broadly similar across different institutions because the goal of providing students with essential knowledge for a career in law remains the same. You’ll be at no disadvantage if you take the CPE instead of the GDL, or vice-versa.

Course content for the CPE and GDL comprises seven compulsory foundation topics, all of which relate to the legal system of England and Wales. These are prescribed by the Joint Academic Stage Board on behalf of the Law Society and General Council of the Bar, and entail:

  • Criminal law: learning both the technical knowledge surrounding what constitutes a criminal act, and the ethical and moral implications of the issues that arise.
  • Equity and the law of trusts: the creation of trusts, role of trustees and legal ramifications when trustees breach trust.
  • Law of contract: contracts in both the commercial and corporate worlds, focusing on how contracts are made and what actually constitutes the legality of a contract.
  • Law of the European Union: investigating how British membership of the EU reflects on legal practice in England and Wales.
  • Law of tort: tort meaning ‘civil wrong’, this examines what that term actually covers and the legal practices involved, such as compensation issues.
  • Property law: the rights of owning land, what can be done with that land and consequences of those laws for current and future owners.
  • Public law: how law interacts between Parliament, government and the courts, as well as how law affects the relationship between individuals and the state.

Students then pick one further area of law to study – choices vary considerably depending on the institution.

By the end of your study, you’ll have developed as much knowledge as any student whose undergraduate degree was law-focused. You won’t be at any obvious disadvantage when compared to them in future LPC and BPTC applications.

How do I choose which law conversion course to take?

You’ll need to consider a number of factors affecting CPE and GDL courses at different institutions:

  • Course structure
  • Hours of study per week (and how this is divided between tutoring, seminars, lectures and workshops)
  • Course content
  • Teaching quality
  • Assessment methods.

There has been a noted trend in recent years of increasing focus on coursework and mooting (the academic discussion of a sample case often in a mock courtroom setting) across a number of providers. This may be something to factor into your decision. Most CPE and GDL courses will require some form of project or dissertation-based assessment.

If you feel that coursework is not your best way of working, it may be beneficial to consider courses that offer more mooting or seminar-based assessment. Some include multiple-choice based assessment for certain modules: a benefit to those who prefer to memorise specific facts.

You may have the option of conducting some of your modules online as part of a distance learning arrangement. This varies depending on institution, as some require more contact time for specific modules than others.

Some courses include further introductory modules before the seven foundation topics listed above are taken, so if you really want a solid grounding before you start then those courses should interest you.

Your optional modules will also vary from institution to institution sometimes the ‘other area of law’ isn’t really an option, it’s another module built into the course at that particular institution), so you’ll also want to look into which specialism will be best for you. A sample of ‘other’ modules includes:

  • Evidence law
  • Employment law
  • Social welfare law and practice
  • An independent study on an area of law of your choice.

Are there any other postgraduate law study options to the CPE and GDL?

If you don’t think the CPE or GDL is for you, then your alternative is to study for a postgraduate masters degree in law, a senior status law degree or an LLB (an undergraduate law degree). There’s more info on which of these might be the best option for you in our article on law masters, senior status law degrees and postgraduate LLB courses.