The Judge Rules: career-focused millennials spell doom for the GDL

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Like James Blunt, the law conversion course is just so 2005


Remember 2005? If you are a law student or junior lawyer today, this picture is likely to sound totally alien — but for those a bit older, let’s pause and reminisce.

A former guards officer, James Blunt, was crooning his way into the hearts of teenage girls, Chelsea won the Premier League by a 12-point margin over Arsenal, and Islamic fundamentalist bombings were unleashed on London’s streets.

But despite worries about the “war on terror”, the economy effectively boomed — Britain’s GDP in 2005 increased by about 4%. In the legal profession, law firm training contracts more or less grew on trees; City solicitors had conquered Europe and were going global.

Wannabe lawyers could adopt a relatively relaxed attitude by reading an interesting and “fun” subject at university before knuckling down for a year of pain on the law conversion course.

Undergraduate tuition fees were seven years in the distant future and the process of qualifying as a lawyer was generally a damn sight cheaper.

It was very much a roll on Friday era. Students and even young lawyers could be far more carefree about the legal profession, adopting if not quite a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, then a far more blasé approach to training contracts and pupillages than those following a decade later.

Then came the global financial crisis and crash of 2007-08.

Today we are in a roll on Monday era. Forget the pub — the beer is unaffordable in any event — and concentrate on which legal recruitment fairs to attend, that pile of law firm summer vac scheme or mini-pupillage forms to complete, and ultimately the crucible of training contract or full pupillage applications.

Law students and junior lawyers might never have been described as frivolous — even during those halcyon days of wine and roses in 2005 — but in 2015 they have really been forced to get their heads down.

There is no better barometer of that climatic change than the declining interest in the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), for which applications have plunged from 5,980 in 2008-09 to just 3,690 last year.

The course can set students back by as much as £10,000. That is a heavy price for all but those from the most wealthy families to pay for the privilege of spending three years studying a subject that actually interests them.

The potential withering of the GDL could herald more than just a few sleepless nights for law school financial directors. It could signal a profound move towards an accelerated version of the US legal education process.

How far away are we from a qualify regime that sees students required to complete a four-year undergraduate programme that combines the LLB with a version of today’s legal practice course before going on to do some form of shortened on-the-job training?

In the US, the process takes about seven years in total, but that jurisdiction’s undergraduate degrees are a year longer than those in the UK and law school in America is still all post-graduate study.

But the over-riding point is that qualifying as a lawyer in the US is an extremely expensive business, and it is becoming much more expensive in this jurisdiction.

Of course, many wannabe commercial solicitors are fortunate to have training contract offers from law firms willing to pick up the cost of their post-graduate study. However, as budgets tighten, how keen will even the biggest hitting City firms be to finance the GDL?

Will a time come when the policy shifts — albeit even informally — to a point where economics dictate that those students with law degrees are preferred for training contracts and LPC sponsorship?

Many lawyers from older generations will regret the passing of the conversion course in England and Wales, if indeed it does shuffle off. There is a strong argument that completing a non-law degree is not only more fun for students, but actually results in the moulding of better-rounded lawyers.

But in roll on Monday world, will the legal profession continue to allow itself the luxury of having a higher educational grounding in anything but the subject of law?



Tuition fees were in place in 2005



Indeed. I was amongst the last students to receive a grant, and the first to pay tuition fees when I started university in 1998.



All I’ll say is try being a graduate trying to qualify in Scotland and then count your lucky stars (not to mention all the money you’ll have saved by qualifying in England).


Not Amused

Just trying to make sense of your comment “all the money you’ll have saved by qualifying in England” – forgive me, but you can’t be ‘Scottish’ can you?

Because a Scottish child pays no tuition fees (so saves £27,000)
And a Scot then pays their professional training year (which I understand to be about a third of the UK one)
Now I don’t know how much a Scottish conversion course costs (or even if one exists) but unless it costs £55,500 for the year you would still be quids in over an English kid: because an English kid pays 27k + 10k + 18.5k (degree, conversion, BPTC)

I am therefore (genuinely) interested why you think Scotland is more expensive? If you are English and you try to qualify is Scotland are there extra fees?


Not Amused

Oddly, half of my comment didn’t appear (it was a bit boring, a lengthy breakdown of costs English kids pay)

But without it I just sound like a racist 🙁



actually all– Scottish and non — will pay around £5300 per year for the LLB conversion (the equivalent of the GDL that lasts two years) so the cost is higher.

What is higher in England and Wales is the LPC / BPTC but mostly because the market is now dominated by private providers.


Not Amused

Well, that was my point before computer gremlins edited me.

Scot kids pay 2 x 5k to convert + 6k practitioner year = 16k
UK kids pay 3 x 9k (initial degree) + 9k convert + 18k practitioner year = 54k

So given that 16k is 38k cheaper, it wasn’t clear to me why Scot kids were claiming hardship



not bean counting but:
the 9K conversion rate for UK is not totally correct. It can be as low as 5K in at least two good Universities. There is also a possibility to get a certificate of academic standing from the bar council (for intended solicitors this is now done directly by the provider) and join a GDL just with work experience hence, the 9K x 3 are not always in play.

Even if you count the 9k x 3 let’s not forget that this is a loan and you don’t pay it back if you don’t find a job. LPC/BPTC fees are way too high at 18K but we can only fault the Bar / SRA and the Universities for being unable to offer something reasonably priced (as Uni do in the GDL) and leaving the market entirely to private providers.

Still in terms of disadvantages in Scotland 2y v 1year of the GDL is still substantial to me! (and 5K v 10K) but given the reduce cost of the LPC it is probably a tie 🙂


“all the money you’ll have saved by qualifying in England” refers to the GDL and LPC/BPTC. I’m not talking about the undergraduate degree but rather of the graduate one (gLLB and GDL). The cheapest graduate gLLB in Scotland is around £6k, so that’s £12k + £6.5k = £18.5k in tuition fees at the bare minimum. At least two of the law schools here charge £18k + £6.5k = £24.5k. Throw in living costs and you can be paying in the region of £45k just to get to the traineeship stage.

Just to clear it up: I am only really concerned with the difficulty of funding a graduate law conversion. The reason for that being the fact that undergraduate tuition fees are not an upfront charge that will actually prevent people from going to university in the same way that gLLB/GDL fees are upfront.


Not Amused

See, through maths, what I am doing, through maths, is accusing you of a complete lack of empathy.

With wild figures you’ve managed this:

” At least two of the law schools here charge £18k + £6.5k = £24.5k. Throw in living costs and you can be paying in the region of £45k just to get to the traineeship stage.”

Which is still 9k cheaper than the people for whom you have no empathy and from whom you are demanding sympathy. Plus you’ve added living costs, which I didn’t.

That’s 20.5k living costs over 3 years. So if I were to stupidly assume that English living costs were as low as Scottish living costs and extrapolate the same to an English kid I would have an extra 35k living costs (7k x 5 years). Making the English kid total 89k verses your 45k.

That would take the 9k more that an English kid pays on your own figures to 44k more that an English kid pays once living costs are also added in.

So, again, I think that calling for sympathy for Scots kids (who benefit from free tuition fees) from English kids is just unlikely to happen. On the maths you are just wrong. But beyond the maths you demonstrate a crippling lack of empathy. Calling for sympathy from people who are suffering more than you are suffering is just plain odd.



If you don’t want to read what I’m saying then fair enough.


It’s about £7,000 cheaper qualifying in Scotland? (LPC/BPTC wise) Although yes the accelerated two year LLB is a shambles compared to the GDL but if you are a law student and then do the DPLP its significantly cheaper than an English law student doing the LPC or BPTC.



“the accelerated two year LLB is a shambles compared to the GDL”
can you please elaborate? thank you



The courses always seem to clash with each other and at my uni the faculty refused to record the various clashing courses or modify the timetable so students were forced to miss compulsory classes. So far as I know the situation isn’t very different at other universities in Scotland but things might have changed since the friends I had who did it graduated.



Hmm. I did an accelerated law degree and it was fine for me.


beside the clashes do you think that the LLB was more intensive than the GDL ? the conversion LLB has 16 modules vs 7 of the GDL so I was wondering what do you think terms of difficulty etc ?


Eh I didn’t do it so couldn’t comment and cant say my friends who were doing it mentioned that either.





Having taken the GDL in 2005/6 (in London no less), I can say, after a brief check with an inflation calculator, that I did not pay anywhere near the £10,000 (in 2015 pounds) cost of the course quoted by the article.

Maybe some old timey prices would trigger some old timey attendance figures. Doesn’t take a genius to work out what happens to demand when the price goes up (even if it doesn’t happen immediately).



One of the advantages of the conversion course is so that lawyers become more rounded individuals by having studied other things. However, the fact that a traditional LLB is a narrow experience is as much a product of the narrowness of what’s available through most University law departments. This needs to change.

LLB courses tend to be very doctrinal. There aren’t enough socio-legal options. Students aren’t encouraged to take modules from other departments, let alone exposed to formally interdisciplinary teaching (reflective of the lack of interdisciplinary research). ‘Law and’ courses (Law and Sociology, Law and Languages etc) and joint honours may not be qualifying law degrees.

I know I benefited as a student, a lawyer and a human being from having opted to take out-of-school modules and socio-legal options. But that was not the norm and most people ended up on a diet of doctrinal this and doctrinal that.

I don’t see the benefit of constantly learning a little bit about lots of unrelated areas of law which you won’t ever end up using. In the unlikely event you’re ever asked in the course of practice a question related to a field which is not your specialty of practice but which you studied at LLB, either a) what you learnt is out of date, b) you actually know so little it would be negligent to answer, and/or c) you misremember what you did learn. Far better to have a grasp of the underlying principles of the legal system – including its political context – it’s impact on the real world, and various critical engagements with law. It’ll have a much more lasting impact.



GDL was set at about late 2nd year LLB standard. With a previous degree and some reading around the subject it made it a fascinating course to study.



I did the GDL full time in 2005.

Fee was £3,500 (Welsh provider).

Topped it up to an LLM with a dissertation for £1,100.

I feel for those doing it now at such high prices.



“The course can set students back by as much as £10,000. That is a heavy price for all but those from the most wealthy families to pay for the privilege of spending three years studying a subject that actually interests them.”

It can set you back as much as £10,000 but it doesn’t have to. A very good GDL from UCLan is £ 5000 — half that price
Similarly, the GDL at Huddersfield is £ 4800.

Both courses can be completed at distance so location is not an issue.

Is £ 5000 only from these from very wealthy families? I don’t think so. There are a lot of financing opportunities AND if your parents can’t invest this amount in your education then you can still resort to scholarship etc.

Simply compare this fee with the cost to qualify in the US and even with a very expensive LPC or BPTC the costs to qualify in the UK are a fraction of what students pay in the U.S.

Even in Australia the costs are considerably higher than in the UK.

How about the opportunity cost? you can finish the GDL in 1 year (even online). There is no other jurisdiction in the world with such a quick conversion (most don’t have any conversion course). Even the graduate LLB in Scots law (a 2 years conversion LLB) has a similar cost but multiplied by two.

The real issue is not the GDL cost but the LPC/BPTC monopoly of the two big providers and the length of both courses. e.g. the Australia legal practice course is 12 weeks full time.

Even at £10,000 it might provide with some value as some provider to offer LLB top-up so it is not a much higher cost than 3 years of University etc.

There is another truth: since 2005 many Universities started to offer a senior LLB as a valid alternative so logically the GDL is suffering. Given that the job market is what it is I think that it makes sense to many to go for a senior LLB and at least have a law degree if the LPC/BPTC ambition doesn’t concretise.



BTW where did the £10,000 figure came from? the BPP GDL — that is one of the most expensive if not the most expensive — is £8,325



BPP is 10.2k



Y don’t you get a proper job LC instead of writing shittttsss like this….



Really a TC/pupillage should be a prerequisite for the GDL, as I struggle to think why people would do it if getting one of these wasn’t their goal.



It is their goal, they just don’t wish to wait until they secure one (or funding) to do the GDL.


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