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GDL student numbers jumped by over a fifth during the pandemic

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Covid disruption and SQE replacement contributing factors, report finds

There has been a surge in the number of students embarking on the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) during the pandemic, with enrolment increasing by over a fifth from 3,209 to 3,884.

These findings were contained in a newly released annual report by LawCAB, the central applications board for the law conversion and Legal Practice Course (LPC).

The report suggests the underlying driver for this growth appears to be predominantly Covid-related. Alison Hook, director of legal consultancy Hook Tangaza and LawCAB company secretary, said she thought the increase in GDL applicants was “90% driven by the pandemic”.

In times of uncertainty, it may be that graduates with non-law degrees look to the legal profession as more secure and stable. Indeed, the sector has fared well over the course of the past year, with many law firms posting strong financial results. We have heard gripes from some trainees, who had their training contract start dates pushed back by a few months, but on the whole, there have been no reports of firms cutting back rookie intakes in response to the pandemic.

The 2021 Legal Cheek GDL Most List

The report goes on to suggest the growing awareness that the GDL route to solicitor qualification will “disappear imminently” may also have been a factor.

The GDL is in its final year to be phased out by the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) from September. The course, which has been around for over 40 years, and is being replaced at most institutions by a more SQE-slanted option, will be offered for the last time in 2021/22 (apart from to those exceptional cases identified in the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s guidance).

Elsewhere, the report found there to be a marginal 6.4% increase in the number of LPC applicants for the latest academic year — enrolment creeped up from 6,896 to 7,338.

“Overall, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and the transition to the SQE, interest in professional legal education in England and Wales remains robust,” the report concluded.

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