What is a Graduate Diploma in Law?

Uni Compare  · May 26th 2023  · 5 min

Law ranks as one of the hardest degrees that you will ever study, all practices of Law take a long time to learn and they are fairly taxing on the workload.


The Graduate Diploma in Law is a postgraduate qualification. It is a law degree that is rising in prominence and is a degree that focuses on expanding a student’s existing knowledge of law and opens up new avenues for students that are looking to work in law.


What is a Graduate Diploma in Law?

The Graduate Diploma in Law (sometimes shortened to GDL) is a postgraduate degree in Law. The GDL is specifically for people who have previously studied an unrelated undergraduate subject.

The Graduate Law Diploma is often called the Common Professional Examination (CPE). The qualification is a law conversion course and typically crams almost 18 months of undergraduate law study into a year. The GDL is equivalent to 120 CATS points and 60 ECTS points.

How am I assessed?

Typically, the GDL is assessed on the basis of examinations. You will have seven exams in total, all lasting three hours.

The exams will be on the main core modules of the course, which are:

  • Contract Law.
  • Criminal Law.
  • Equity & Trusts.
  • EU Law.
  • Foundations of Law.
  • Land Law.
  • Public Law.
  • Tort Law.

You may also be asked to complete elements of coursework. This may be on the above modules, or may be on an area of your choice.

University GDL

How much does a Graduate Diploma in Law cost?

Your fees will depend on what university or law school you attend. Typically, the Graduate Diploma in law ranges between £5,000 and £11,000 for full-time study. Part-time courses may be cheaper, but will take longer, and courses based in London will be more expensive than those in other areas.

There are various funding methods a student can consider for the Graduate Diploma in Law. Law firms may offer sponsorships for students looking to study the GDL that will cover tuition fees and your maintenance grant. Some universities may offer scholarships and bursaries for students for those who meet the selection criteria, and some employers may also offer the chance for employees to balance their work and their studies.

Postgraduates are entitled to a postgraduate loan. However, postgraduate loans cannot be used when applying for the GDL, as only Master’s level qualifications are eligible for this type of funding.

What are the entry requirements?

Entry requirements will differ depending on where you are studying. Typically, an institute will ask for no less than a 2:2 before applying. You won't need to have work experience, but it can help your application, especially if it is a competitive university or law school.

You do not need to have studied a specific subject. Previous knowledge of the law does come in handy, but you do not need to have studied any undergraduate law courses or postgraduate law courses before applying.


Which countries award the Graduate Diploma in Law?

In the UK, only England and Wales offer the GDL for students. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own version of the qualification that runs in much the same way.

In Scotland, the GDL is known as LLB Law (Graduate Entry) and is an accelerated two-year course. This course then converts into a non-law degree. In Northern Ireland, the degree is known as the MLaw and is also a two-year accelerated course.

Other countries work very differently from the UK. The GDL is neither offered nor universally recognised in America, Australia and Canada. Graduates will need to study for a Juris Doctor, which is a three-year course.

Who is the Graduate Diploma in Law for?

The GDL is mainly aimed at students who are looking to convert their non-law degrees into an LLB (Hons). The degree is also aimed at those who wish to have a career in law or a related sector.

Anyone can study the GDL. It is mainly aimed at students who have studied a course outside of law and are looking to convert it. However, there may be other reasons to study the GDL. Law firms often require that their employees have a GDL and there may even be those who work for non-law-related companies. Accountancy firms may require you to have a GDL or equivalent, especially when dealing with specific areas of a sector that you may be unfamiliar with, such as compliance.

Can I get a training contract before the GDL?

Students can be offered a GDL training contract before they start their course. However, you are not allowed to start it until after you finish the LPC (which comes after the GDL). Some law firms set up training contracts in advance, as much as two years, but this depends on the firm.

A training contract is a two-year placement undertaken by trainee solicitors after they finish their Legal Practice Course (LPC). It’s the final step before qualification and is similar to an apprenticeship - it’s an opportunity to put your academic knowledge into practice. Not all law firms offer a training contract before students finish their GDL and LPC.


What can I do afterwards?

The GDL course allows you to study the same information a law graduate did in their undergraduate programme. It’ll provide you with all you need to know to then move onto the LPC course and a training contract, before being a fully qualified solicitor or counsel.

Later on you can specialise your work in one of these areas or start your training contract in a specialist area of law. The GDL gives you the opportunity to supplement your earlier degree with a focus on the legal aspect, so you can specialise in specific areas much easier than you think.

Other legal careers are open to you. Some decide to become a solicitor, while others may look into the possibility of becoming a barrister. With this in mind, you will need to sit other accompanying exams or qualifications. These will include the Solicitor's Qualifying Examination (SQE) and the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). You will also need pass a series of assessments along the way.

What modules will I study?

The modules you will study will depend on where you attend university or law school. Typically, these courses focus on improving your analytical and research skills, not just on core principle modules.

That being said, GDLs usually include the following:

  • Contract Law (30 credits).
  • Criminal Law (30 credits).
  • Equity & Trusts (30 credits).
  • EU Law (30 credits).
  • Foundations of Law (15 credits).
  • Land Law (30 credits).
  • Public Law (30 credits).
  • Tort Law (30 credits).

You may be able to take on other modules if needed. You will need to speak to your university or law school beforehand.

Is the Graduate Diploma in Law suitable for international students?

International students are able to study the Graduate Diploma in Law if they wish to. The course is open to anyone that meets the specific entry requirements set forward by the university or law school they are applying to.

The GDL is not accepted in all countries, however. International students that obtain the GDL may find that it is accepted in the UK, but not accepted in their own country or further abroad.

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