Will the SQE kill the GDL?

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Legal Cheek talks to the main players to see where they stand on the law conversion course

The new solicitor super-exam is due to come into force from 1 September 2021 — phasing out the traditional routes to qualification under the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC).

As the roll-out date nears, students will be thinking about how the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), one of the biggest changes to legal education and training, will impact them.

Under the current regime, a non-law graduate seeking to become a solicitor must complete a one-year GDL before they can embark on the LPC. Under the SQE, a two-part national assessment to be set and examined centrally, there is no equivalent requirement, i.e. all graduates (law or non-law) can proceed directly to SQE1.

Does this mean the SQE will kill the GDL?

The situation remains unclear. While new entrant BARBRI has said non-law grads don’t need to complete a law conversion course to embark on its SQE prep course, it appears that the main established vocational UK law schools, The University of Law (ULaw) and BPP Law School (BPP), continue to encourage non-law students to complete it.

BARBRI — which last month became the first legal education provider to go public with its £6,000 SQE prep course fees — says it is able to offer non-law grads a path to solicitor qualification sans GDL because SQE1 content covers ‘functioning legal knowledge’, or in other words, the core modules on the GDL.

The 2021 Legal Cheek GDL Most List

ULaw and BPP are yet to provide substantive details of their new SQE offerings or the fees they will charge. From their websites, however, they will still offer a conversion course post-introduction of the SQE.

A spokesperson for ULaw told us “there are no entry requirements for the SQE1 prep programme except that to qualify as a solicitor you will need to hold a degree (or equivalent)”. They confirmed it will be offering the GDL in January and September 2021 “as we expect the majority of students and firms to continue with the current route to becoming a solicitor”.

Its market rival, BPP, remains similarly upbeat about the conversion course’s future — so much so it recently launched a brand new version specifically geared towards non-law grads looking to sit the SQE.

A BPP spokesperson said: “The PGDL ensures that non-law graduates have the same depth of knowledge of foundational legal principles as law graduates which is important to their success both in assessments and in practice.”

Perhaps there is still life in the GDL yet.

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It’s all a waste of money



The new BPP PGDL is preparation for SQE1 (and a traditional GDL) so eg includes the multiple choice questions as well as other questions (although in the recent practice/mock exams there were no MCQ but there will be in December’s final for this term’s 4 modules).

I am not a fan of the new system nor multiple choice. We need to make things harder not easier as there are too many people getting through many of whom will never have jobs and some who should never have jobs as they are not up to it.



The desired goal is not to pass the SQE, but to pass the SQE AND obtain employment as a solicitor. While the SQE covers a lot of ground that the GDL covers, it does so by means of MCQ-only assessment of substantive knowledge (and is not as comprehensive as a GDL). I doubt that many firms will want to hire graduates who have done a non-law degree and the SQE alone – the risk is that their basic legal knowledge will be too thin for them to hit the ground running in a law firm. That said, this will all be new and who knows how the market will move once the SQE is up and running.



The good jobs will go to those with good experience. You aren’t walking into a city firm after experience in a CAB and volunteering for FRU.



Ummmmm Legal Cheek you are aware that the BPTC still requires a QLD or GDL right?



True, GDL can be eliminated only if BTC course is changed and if more other options are available instead of pupilage requirement. According to a study only 10% students gets accepted from the total number of students applied as there is no enough seats for others. They should address this issue.



I’ve posted this before, but it’s still true so…

SQE is a worthless social engineering project which has at its heart the unevidenced assumption that if you create new, inferior, routes to qualification then (a) more solicitor jobs will be created (they won’t: market demand won’t change, if anything it will worsen as the qualification degrades); and (b) more diverse candidates will get through (they won’t: firms will rightly become more risk adverse, and prefer Oxbridge candidates or rich Singaporeans, etc. for ‘diversity’, to the even greater exclusion of candidates who previous could have demonstrated their ability through clear competition on a simple playing field). It is the new CILEx: created with the intention of widening diversity and qualification into the profession, but ultimately producing a qualification that is less credible than the ‘proper’ qualification route.

Law firms will become more powerful, because the SRA have eliminated the ‘safe assumptions’ about candidates which could previously have be inferred from the qualifying law degree (“QLD”)/graduate diploma of law (“GDL”), and legal practice course (“LPC”). Any muppet can now purport to jump through SQE1 hoops, then play at doing trivial, notionally legally-related work, and then tick boxes in SQE2. In February 2020, a 15-year-old scored almost 50% in the initial section of the SQE, despite doing no preparation and having no knowledge of the law (www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/childs-play-unprepared-15-year-old-scores-half-marks-in-super-exam/5103230.article). Both the SQE and SRA are a joke.

The solicitor qualification, per se, will be worthless. What will matter – and the *only* thing that will matter – will be the name of the law firm in which people started their careers, both (1) because it will be assumed that experience in Linklaters, A&O, Kirkland & Ellis etc. is *exponentially* more valuable than in ‘Ditcher, Quick & Hyde’ divorce lawyers; and (2) credentialism – the concept that people are judged by certain achievements as a ‘filter’ rather than for their actual value per se – will be even greater (i.e. at the moment, if you have a BCL you stand out, not because you need a BCL to practice, but it’s a useful filter for law firm HR. By eliminating the QLD, GDL and LPC, you will force employers to find substitutes. Oxbridge and US/Magic Circle law firm names on one’s CV will be ever more important).

It has long-since been inevitable that the best law firms will simply ignore the SQE, and replicate the existing GDL/LPC. For example, Linklaters, Freshfields, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright and Slaughter and May are working together to do just that: see https://www.legalcheek.com/2019/09/exclusive-city-law-firm-consortium-prepares-to-appoint-super-exam-prep-course-provider and https://www.legalcheek.com/2020/05/city-consortiums-non-law-trainees-will-need-to-complete-pre-super-exam-conversation-course. Henceforth, ‘proper’ solicitors in decent City jobs will be those who go down that, or similar, routes. The ‘second-class solicitor’ route will be exclusively for those who bought the SRA’s SQE snake oil. The latter risk being stuck in a second-class ‘jobs ghetto’.

Junior lawyers’ future will now be determined by where they train, because the SQE is not up to scratch and the only value will come from the training and credibility offered by the firms. Those who train at sub-par firms will be permanently blocked out from high-end City and commercial law.

What is so perversely tragic is that working class and BAME candidates who are less likely to have access to decent careers advice will be more likely to cluelessly believe the hype that ‘all solicitors are equal’, and that SQE1/2 will put them on the same playing field as US NQs earning £150k. The lack of realistic careers advice is one of main reasons for different levels of achievement now: non-academic middle class children are sensibly deterred from going into law, whereas similarly [un]qualified minority candidates are misled. Sorry kids, the SRA has lied to you, because (a) it was fooled itself by a charlatan who is now seeking to exploit the disaster he’s created himself by becoming a ‘consultant’; and (b) it lacks the courage to admit that it made a mistake. Well done entrenching privilege, and damaging social mobility further, SRA. What a mess.

The SRA’s lobotomised pursuit of the SQE is an immense discredit to it, and it suggests a regulator which is either too incompetent to realise its failure or too arrogant to admit it. Can we now – please – put a stake in the SQE? (And, ideally, the SRA itself.)

In an attempt to conclude on a positive note: the SRA rightly recognised that law school quality is highly variable, and that this should be addressed. There is a very simple alternative to the SQE, though: centrally-set and assessed LPC exams. This would preserve the best parts of the current system, while providing quality assurance. How about it, SRA?


Calm down dear

Breathe, that’s right, just let it all out. Breeeeathe dawg.


big brain time

Sorry you’re intimidated by more than two paragraphs big boy. I, for one, appreciate OP’s succinct, clear and rational input



Perhaps that second class ghetto might finally perhaps be able to represent many a litigant in person who previously couldn’t afford your first class lawyers, and just maybe the little guy can take on the big guy and win for a change.



To a certain degree you already have this division.

You have some lawyers getting paid minimum wage so an admin job at a local company will have better pay and perks.



The SRA is a total waste. If you’re not part of the club or seen as part of the old boys club, regardless of talent and hard work, then you are going to fight an uphill battle. Prestige and connections will secure your place in the legal

Set up your own business and ignore the push for social mobility, it is a total con, they don’t want to support anyone from a different background.



Does anyone have any idea what is the approximate tax rate charged on soliciters income? Is it true that 100k salary reduces to mere 65k after tax?


Adam Smith

Different tax rates apply to different amounts in the total £100,000 but I make it tax of £27,500 so 27.5% marginal rate.

You also have to take National Insurance Contributions into account which I make as another £5,860.48 off your £100k.

So after tax and NIC your looking at taking home £66,640.




This is a pretty good calculator for an answer.

Assuming you have tuition fees to pay off, an NQ salary of 100K pre tax leaves you with 60K.

However, if you have a brain, you will also start contributing to your pension from the very beginning of your career. Rule of thumb is halve your age, and use that number as the percentage of your salary per month you are putting in your pension.

Assuming an age of 24 (fairly standard age for a city lawyer to start off at, assuming they read law at university), when you add 12% contributions per month to the calculation, you are left with £52K to play with.



This iPhone app is excellent for calculating your tax and take-home pay:

UK Salary Calculator 2020-21 by James Still: https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/uk-salary-calculator-2020-21/id366872441

Remember, if you choose your practice area carefully, then between 3-5 PQE you will be able to escape the UK and work somewhere with sensible/no income tax. That’s the dream.


1st yr Trainee

For someone just starting out (me), could you please elaborate quickly on which practice areas you’re referring to?

That is indeed the dream, and I’m keen to escape the Brexit sinking ship.



Oct 9 2020 9:50pm: yes, you can head offshore, where careers die.



What is the point of the LLB then? If you can do a doss degree in languages or anthropology and then proceed straight to SQE, why bother with the difficult admissions standards of getting onto a law degree, and then the 3 year slog?



A LLB or GDL is going to make it easier to get the work experience you need to qualify under SQE. As others have said, firms are going to continue to prefer people who have some kind of qualification in law.

Self-studying for the SQEs and passing does not guarantee you a job. You still need to complete again other candidates.



My languages degree had more stringent admission criteria than most undergraduate law degrees. But while we’re on the topic of baseless opinion-spouting, most undergrad law students are unimaginative worker drones looking for the fastest route into the hive.


Michael McGarry

The need for a Law Degree or equivalent will become more important to employers as the SQE from an employers view point is devalued from what an employer has expected of a good LPC. I speak as an employer and someone who qualified without a degree, but with ultimately LPC.


The Maverick

I think this shows how useless a LLB degree is. I can’t believe I did one to find out you can do a GDL conversion course of 9 months with less assessments and no dissertation than the LLB.

You have to feel for LLB students who may have been turned down for students doing enjoyable degrees like languages and switching to law.

It’s good to see the emphasis on practical skills as opposed to the academic with all the pointless essay writing.



No one was stopping you from doing the same.

You do however save yourself the year and costs that GDL students incur.

Law studied as an academic discipline is however a distance away from law in practice.


Allen in your Overys

SQE is for those who couldn’t hack/weren’t good enough for the proper LLB/GDL/TC route.

Will simply create a second-tier profession. Everyone qualifying under the SQE route will be glorified paralegals wondering why they haven’t seen their salary rise past 35k in the past 7 years and subsequently lateralling into writing for Legal Cheek, Legal Recruitment or Legal Professional Services at the Big 4. Unfortunately, we will all have to listen to them chew our ears off saying “we are actually as qualified as you”.

If you can jump on the GDL/LPC while you can…



Looks like someone is bitter and triggered. Similar things were said when the 1960’s plate glass universities were introduced, and the also during the expansion in 1992. Now a degree from Bath or Warwick is viewed much more favourably than one from Liverpool or Sheffield.



And also now, you have hoards of people with LLBs from Coventry, Winchester, Bolton & Lincoln who can’t get a job in commercial law, and indeed end up in legal recruitment etc (indeed, trotting out the line that their LLB means just as much as one from KCL etc), so in fact the naysayers were right…



As animal farm said all animals are equal but some are more equal than others. Like university, all degrees are equal but some degrees are worth more than others.



At some point everyone will have to qualify via SQE, so to say that everyone who takes this route will be second-tier is incorrect because once LPC (especially) is scrapped altogether, there will not be any other alternative.

Ultimately, it will just be down to where the candidate did their 2 year qualifying working experience. Inevitably, there will be a discrepancy between those who did QWE at a respectable law firm / in-house legal department and those who scattered the 2 year long experience on internships, in CAB or in multiple places in general.

Also, to address the comment from MCT – not everybody wants to get into commercial law (frankly, if everybody did, that would be disastrous for the law industry and legal system). Commercial law tends to pay best, but there is still a huge number of solicitors that practice in wills, probate, crime, family, divorce, etc. I generally advise looking outside of your MoneyLaw bubble – we are still going to need lawyers specialised in the above areas. Commercial route is not the only path available to aspiring lawyers, regardless of what some people on this website try to make it out to be.


Hooray Henry

I don’t think MCT was taking abut the people from non RGs who are happy not doing commercial law. That’s not a problem at all. I think he is talking about the large number who seriously want to do commercial law, yet stand no chance.

Look at TSR and you’ll see countless examples of people in these sorts of situations. There was one the other day from someone with a 2.1 from Bournemouth who couldn’t understand why for several years in a row they had been rejected by every corporate firm, despite having their applications read, criticised etc by people in the know .

Similar threads exist on TCLA too. it’s a real problem – convincing people they can do commercial law (and in doing so make them decide no other branch of law is palatable), then taking their money over half a decade (LLB, LLM, LPC) when they have no real chance of making it.



Hey, talking of commercial law- Does anyone here have any idea how much money does an average partner of a magic circle law firm make? I was wondering if it is around 700k. Also, on average how much time does it take to become a partner at any of the magic circle law firms?



SQE is a good thing, so many people pay £17,000 for LPC and are struggling to get a trainee contract. We rely on the law firms to decide who can become a lawyer, placing to much power into law things. Most jurisdictions qualify this way, New York bar & other places & once you complete the test you are a qualified attorney. The SQE will be hard to pass and will test your legal knowledge, & I think gives everyone an opportunity to become a lawyer. A field should not be so hard to get into, & everyone should just be open to change.



Except you won’t be a qualified solicitor by passing the SQE. So the firms still have the power. And if you think where you did your JD and where you did your summer internship in the US doesn’t matter I would say your wrong.

Ultimately anyone with a good degree from a good uni has a chance of becoming a solicitor. But being a solicitor is not something everyone is prima facie entitled to do like say becoming a company director. It is a position of considerable responsibility and trust and requires particular skills and training, which society is entitled to demand be certified by a rigorous course of assessment and apprenticeship. The LPC is already pretty weak on this and the SQE will only makes it worse.



“Most jurisdictions qualify this way, New York bar & other places & once you complete the test you are a qualified attorney.”

This is not true. Most countries actually require some form of work experience before you can become fully qualified, so firms and government legal offices still serve as gatekeepers. This is true for countries which don’t follow the UK model and instead follow one of the continental models.

The US is an outlier in allowing one to be fully qualified with zero experience of working as a lawyer.


The Maverick

I need to ask about the widely reported news that a 15 year old get 50 person in the MCQ Test.

My question is: Did the 15 year old do all 180 x2 tests or not? I feel like it’s being taken out of context.


Ama U

I think it’s about time that the elitist elements in Solicitor and Barrister training and career access routes are removed, I know of people that graduated from top universities, but graduated with 2.2s and a 3rds, took the LPC, used mommy and daddy’s connections and acquired training contacts



There will be no change to this. The current gate keeping will continue.

The SQE will allow students to enter the profession at the rump end where pay is around 20k for like a 50 to 60 hour week. Salaries will be driven down by the SQE at that end of the market.

On the face of it the SQE does allow almost anyone to qualify. But what job will you have afterwards?



The headline sounds like a terrible rap beef.


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