It’s no wonder that prospective lawyers up and down the country choose The University of Law (ULaw) as their Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) provider. With a diverse range of 16 campuses, industry-weathered tutors and a strong reputation for careers support, what more could a newly transferred law student need? And of course this is before we mention that the Chancellor of ULaw is the Lord Neuberger, former President of the UK Supreme Court… With all of this in mind, it is easy to understand why ULaw is a popular choice not only for unsponsored students but also law firms themselves, with 94 of the top 100 UK firms choosing to send their future trainees to study here. But what is it actually like to study the GDL, an infamously gruelling course, at one of the ULaw campuses?
London students can choose between the leafier campus at Bloomsbury and the more commercial setting of Moorgate — where the campus is situated among Magic Circle firms such as Linklaters and Slaughter and May. Whichever choice is made, insiders report the teaching at ULaw is consistently “excellent”.
Moorgate students give a special shout-out to their lecturer’s memorable teaching methods: “She taught us about exclusion clauses by making us inspect her wedding dress receipt — there was a clause about her putting on weight!” Bloomsbury students, on the other hand, note the quality of feedback is “mixed” and depends on the lecturer. Not to panic though, because the course materials are “decent” which is a must considering the level of knowledge students need to quickly pick up during the GDL. Plus, the structure of the teaching makes it “clear what you have to do” to achieve the required standard to pass the GDL.
Outside of the classroom, the “helpful” and “second to none” careers service is always on hand to help those without a training contract to secure one — a fact which should help to offset the “expensive” London fees (currently set at £12,550 for the year). Study spaces are “sufficient” and while most students enjoy the “modern facilities”, others complain that the “library is always full”. Best get there early! One bonus is careers fairs and the library are as close to outside the classroom as lots of GDL students may get. Moorgate students who have time to socialise with their group will find the nearby College Arms a popular pub choice.
Outside of London, ULaw offers the GDL at campuses across many of the major cities including Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and Nottingham. As legal hubs outside of the City continue to grow, choosing to study the GDL there may be a sensible choice, and the saving on fees ― £10,100 for the year as opposed to £12,550 in London — is not to be sniffed at. And if you’ve been to university close by for your undergraduate degree, or are hoping to find a TC nearby, studying the GDL at a regional hub is an excellent way of bridging the gap between student and working life.
The Birmingham campus is located in the ever-popular Jewellery Quarter, meaning students have easy access to the bustling city while also having the space to take a breather and wander round the historic streets filled with (unsurprisingly) jewellery shops, indie bars and art galleries. Or, if you want inspiration for your future career, take a wander past some of the offices of leading firms — Birmingham has plenty of them, with Pinsent Masons, DLA Piper and Eversheds Sutherland all hosting trainees at their offices in the city.
Teaching at ULaw in Birmingham is of the same high-quality standard as the London campuses. Students praise the “experienced” and “very motivating and helpful” tutors, with many also citing how they found the “workshop experience” on the GDL to be a “great way to learn”. And outside of workshops, you’re likely to find a coveted library seat easily, because the Birmingham campus boasts two libraries for its students to study in. Maybe remember to bring a packed lunch for a long study day though, as some students warn of an “overpriced” canteen. But they also offer a top tip for Birmingham GDL students — for a small membership fee, students can get access to the Birmingham Trainee Solicitors Society, a great way to mingle with future colleagues and get the low-down on all the local firms.
Further North, you’ll find the ULaw Manchester campus right in the city centre, with excellent transport links. Commuters can get a bus or tram to just up the road, while Manchester Piccadilly Station is only a ten-minute walk away. Being right in the city centre also means studying close-by potential future employers― big-name firms such as Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper and Clyde & Co are just around the corner from the ULaw building.
The location of the Manchester campus means it is slightly smaller, but this is a positive for many students. “We all have a great working relationship with the staff without it feeling too claustrophobic,” one student tells Legal Cheek, while another reports that tutors know all their students “by name and it’s easy to find help when you need it”. Having a good working relationship with your tutors is advantageous when it comes to feedback. While tutors are “willing to help”, there is “no automatic feedback”, so be prepared to ask. But you shouldn’t get stuck in a rut too often, because students have noted the quality of the “good materials” they are given.
The Manchester building itself is described as being “really nice”, with even a “Wii and table tennis tables in the canteen” and “super comfy” chairs — something only a GDL student would think to comment on, given the long hours spent in the library!
Meanwhile, in Leeds GDL students can enjoy reading their statute books outside from the stylish rooftop terrace. The panoramic views of the city will certainly help soothe any frazzled GDL student’s nerves. Again, the ULaw Leeds campus is situated in the heart of the city on Park Row, just up the road from the train station and close to the offices of the ‘Big Six’ firms in Leeds (Addleshaw Goddard, Pinsent Masons, Squire Patton Boggs, Walker Morris, DLA Piper and Eversheds Sutherland). Certainly an advantage for a future lawyer!
The Leeds building itself helps to prepare GDL students for their chosen career path. The impressive seven-storey, glass-fronted building “replicates the corporate setting of a professional firm” ― an excellent motivator. But if you are intent on heading down the corporate route, be aware you might have to fight a bit harder for feedback and support. While the campus is rated “very good” for “family, social and criminal matters”, some students have indicated this is not the case for those preferring the corporate sphere. Overall, student satisfaction levels are high, perhaps bolstered by the zen feeling inspired by the newly launched ‘Wellbeing Week’ on campus. That is if it is possible to achieve anything close to a state of zen when studying the GDL!
GDL students in Bristol can also enjoy experience business surroundings during their studies, with the ULaw Bristol campus being situated in Temple Quarter, the city’s business district. Just a short walk away you’ll find not only Temple Meads train station, but also the impressive offices of Womble Bond Dickinson, Osborne Clarke and RPC, to name but a few. Bristol may be a smaller city than the likes of Birmingham or Manchester, but it certainly doesn’t lack big-name law firms.
Both tutors and careers service at the Bristol campus win praise from students. “They organised a lot of good events and talks. The ULaw Jobs Fair eventually led to me securing a training contract so I can’t complain,” one student tells Legal Cheek. Another reports that while “the tutors are a real mixed bag,” many “are excellent and really use their experience of practice to enrich their teaching”.
Bristol students who somehow manage to squeeze in a social life outside the GDL are less happy, with one reporting “the university itself doesn’t provide that many social events”. Never fear, the University of Bristol is just across the harbour so GDL students can tap into its famous nightlife. Whether you choose to down toffee shots in Lizard Lounge or dance the night away aboard Thekla (literally a party boat), you may need a cup (or two) of coffee to help you with your studies the next morning. If so, perhaps steer clear of the coffee on campus, which failed to impress some of the students.
The Nottingham campus is also situated in the city’s business district, which conveniently lies closer to the city centre. Not only will students find themselves adjacent to Nottingham Castle, they will also be a mere short walk away from the offices of international firms such as Eversheds Sutherland and national players such as Shoosmiths and Browne Jacobson.
ULaw’s Nottingham building impresses in its own right. Renovated in 2019, it is bright and modern. There’s also a student kitchen and even a retro gaming arcade.
Perhaps the opposite to Nottingham’s modern central hub is the Guildford campus. Based in the historic and Grade II listed Braboeuf Manor, the ULaw Guildford campus lies out-of-town but this makes it all the more special. Who doesn’t want to study surrounded by 23 beautiful acres of Surrey parkland? As one student puts it: “The lifestyle… is second to none. You get to know your peers incredibly well and make very good friends that will last a lifetime.” If you have time to mingle with these friends outside of the classroom, try the Casino Club or Tickled Ivory Piano Bar. And if your future career is more on your mind, then don’t worry because ULaw Guildford has “really good connections with firms in the area like Penningtons Manches Cooper and Stevens & Bolton”, while London is a 30-minute train ride away.
Guildford students speak highly of the “top notch teaching and impeccable support”. One happy ULaw graduate reports, “the GDL prepared me for practice, and the teaching was incredible”. And students can step in the footsteps of alumni Sadiq Khan, former human rights lawyer turned politician and current Mayor of London.
And that’s not all…
If all of the campuses discussed above still aren’t enough for you, then we have good news: there’s more. ULaw hosts a further eight campuses at the following institutions.
• ULaw @ Newcastle University
• ULaw @ University of Chester
• ULaw @ University of East Anglia
• ULaw @ University of Exeter
• ULaw @ University of Liverpool
• ULaw @ University of Reading
• ULaw @ University of Sheffield
• ULaw @ University of Southampton
These partnerships grant GDL students access to wider student life. For example, GDL students at Liverpool can take advantage of the University of Liverpool’s extensive sports facilities. Although students there can’t physically represent university sports teams, ULaw students are welcome to form their own teams.
These campuses are also great for those students who feel hard done by as a result of the pandemic. If half of your undergraduate degree was impacted, it’s no wonder many students feel as though they want another year to enjoy the classic university experience. Choosing to study at one of ULaw’s campuses on your undergraduate university campus therefore makes perfect sense. As one student puts it, ULaw @ University of Exeter is “good if you’re already an Exeter student and carrying on as if you were a fourth year”. Except for the fact that the GDL is likely to be a tad more intensive, if you believe the reports…
The final ULaw campus to mention when considering where to study your GDL at is slightly further afield: Hong Kong. As ULaw’s first international campus, this offers GDL students the unique ability to study abroad, and the campus welcomes students every year from across the world. With firms such as Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May and Dentons (to name but a few) all offering training contracts in Hong Kong, studying here presents an opportunity to test the waters and also keep your options open to work in either England/ Wales or Hong Kong following your GDL.
As well as the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL), ULaw also offers Master of Arts in Law (Conversion), Master of Arts in Law (SQE1), and SQE Law Essentials.