What is a GDL Qualification?

Share This Article:

The aim of the legal profession is to uphold and protect the law to ensure a civilised society. It’s a respected and well-paid profession, which may explain why there are currently nearly 157,000 practising solicitors and more than 33,000 barristers and judges in the UK alone.

As a lawyer, you can specialise in a wide range of areas, such as tort law, public law, land law, EU law, litigation, criminal law, contract law, property law, human rights law, employment law, mergers and acquisitions, white collar crime or corporate law. But whatever sector you decide you want to pursue a career in, first you’ll need either a Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) qualification.

If you have an LLB, you can go on to take the necessary qualifications which will allow you to work as either a solicitor or barrister in one of these areas. Whereas, if you have an undergraduate degree in a subject other than law, you’ll need to take the GDL before you can progress to the next stage of training. (One other option is to go down the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) route.)

The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) explained

If you didn’t study law at university but you wish to work in the legal profession, you’ll need to take the GDL or SQE to bring you up to the same standard as law graduates.

Previously known as the Common Professional Exam (CPE) or Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL), the GDL is designed to give you a strong academic background in law by condensing 18 months of undergraduate study into one intensive year-long course.

While there are some legal positions that don’t require you to take the GDL – working as a paralegal, for example – if you want to become a solicitor or barrister, you need to have this qualification (or the SQE equivalent). In this article, we’ll go into more detail about what you can expect from taking the GDL.

What is a GDL qualification equivalent to?

The GDL is a conversion course, meaning it’s an intensive postgraduate programme which allows you to pursue a career in an area that’s unrelated to your undergraduate degree.

Aside from the GDL, there are a number of other conversion courses available, such as those which cover:

  • Accountancy
  • Business
  • Economics
  • Engineering
  • Medicine
  • Nursing

Does the GDL count as a degree?

The GDL doesn’t count as a degree. Rather, it converts your non-law degree into a qualifying law degree so you can go on to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) to pursue a career as a solicitor or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) to become a barrister.

The GDL doesn’t count as a master’s degree either, even though you take it after completing your undergraduate degree.

What will I learn on a GDL course?

As well as providing you with a basic foundation in legal theory, most GDL courses will cover seven core modules, which are usually split across two terms.

The seven foundation areas of law that you’ll be taught about are as follows:

Contract law

In the contract law module, you’ll learn about the creation, execution, breach and termination of contractual obligations.

You’ll study the rules which determine when an argument becomes legally binding and enforceable, and you’ll find out what happens if you neglect to read the small print.

Some of the other things you’ll learn about are the doctrine of misrepresentation, the Sale of Goods Act and how to provide legal relief in the event of a broken contract.

Criminal law

This area of law covers offences and crimes ranging from criminal damage, fraud and theft to sexual offences, assault, battery, robbery and homicide.

The majority of the module focuses on classifying offences and judicial procedures, but you’ll also be taught about legal criminal theory and jurisprudence, as well as the liability of accomplices, how to handle witnesses and experts and the defences for those who have been accused of committing a crime.

Equity and trusts

In this section, you’ll learn about charity, finance, family and inheritance laws. It covers many things, including the creation of trusts and gifts in the context of family, the rules around setting up and managing charities and how to handle misdemeanours by trust officers.

European Union (EU) law

This module is about the institutions, underlying principles, sources and rationale of the EU’s legal framework, as well as specific areas of substantive law across the continent.

It combines politics, economics, history and comparative law, teaching you about human rights, the free movement of people and goods, and how member states adapt EU principles into their own legal systems.

Land law

This module is complex and technical and requires you to remember countless cases and statutory provisions.

It covers everything related to land, property, leases and tenancies, the buying and selling of property and land and inheritance.

You’ll learn about conveyancing, how to acquire interests in land and how those interests operate, as well as more everyday legal issues, such as how to arrange a mortgage or handle a dispute with a landlord.

Public law

This section is more about theory and legal reasoning, than studying lots of different cases. It teaches you about constitutional and legislative laws, including the processes and procedures of the UK judicial system and the impact of EU law.

It covers parliamentary supremacy, the royal prerogative, the rule of law and the powers and authority of public bodies.

You’ll also learn about freedom of speech, the Human Rights Act, the right to a fair trial and judicial review.

Tort law

Tort law concerns the wrongs committed by one individual to another through the civil courts.

You’ll mostly learn about negligence; however, this module also covers defamation, product and work-related liabilities and private nuisance.

In addition to these modules, you might be given the opportunity to study an eighth topic, such as immigration law, patent law or legal ethics.

Throughout the year, you’ll write essays, answer problem questions and participate in classroom debates, before taking two written exams at the end of the academic year. While coursework tends to account for around 30 percent of your final grade, these exams make up the rest, so it’s advisable to practice with mock exams beforehand so that you’re as prepared as possible.

Most GDL providers also organise pro bono work so you can test out your counselling and advocacy skills.

Is the GDL difficult?

As mentioned above, the GDL is an intense burst of study and examinations that packs 18 months to two years of learning into just one year.

Because you’ll be taking in a huge amount of information in such a short period of time, doing the GDL can be stressful.

To ease the pressure, many providers will prepare you with a list of pre-course reading and study materials.

The following pointers may help you with your studies:

  • Draw up a study timetable at the beginning of your course and stick to it
  • Make sure you attend every class
  • Remember that your aim is to understand how the law works as a whole, so think about how all the different topics you’re studying relate to each other
  • Read our self-care tips for dealing with exam time

How long does a GDL qualification take to complete?

If you’re taking a full-time GDL, you’ll complete it in a minimum of 36 weeks, while a part-time GDL takes two years.

Expect to spend 45 hours each week on lectures, tutorials, coursework and revision before sitting final exams at the end of the academic year.

Is the GDL qualification being phased out?

Because of the introduction of the SQE, the GDL will eventually become defunct for aspiring solicitors; however, the qualification will remain relevant for those wishing to pursue a career as a barrister.

If you’ve already taken the GDL with the intention of becoming a solicitor – or you started or accepted a place on a course on or before 1st September 2021 – then you have until December 2032 to continue down the old route to qualify as a solicitor of England and Wales. From September 2021, trainee solicitors with a degree in any subject will need to take the SQE route instead.

Traditionally, the route to becoming a solicitor of England and Wales involved taking a law degree or GDL, passing the LPC, completing a two-year training contract and meeting the character and suitability requirements of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Under the new system, students are required to have a degree (or equivalent qualification) in any subject, pass both the SQE1 and SQE2 exams, complete two years’ Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and meet the character and suitability requirements of the SRA.

One reason for the change was to standardise the way in which trainee solicitors are assessed. With the old route, there are multiple institutions involved in the evaluation process, whereas with the SQE, all aspiring solicitors are required to sit the same qualifying exam. It also makes the law profession more accessible, because the course fees for the SQE are lower than they are for the GDL and LPC.

For more information about the SQE and what it involves, read our article here.

Is the GDL recognised internationally?

If you studied law at university, your LLB degree will be recognised internationally, but the GDL won’t be.

The Scottish equivalent of the GDL is the LLB Law (Graduate Entry) two-year conversion course, while the Northern Irish equivalent is the Master’s in Law (MLaw) qualification, which again is a conversion course that takes two years to complete.

Instead of offering graduates of any discipline a conversion course like the GDL, some countries, such as America, Canada and Australia, ask them to complete the Juris Doctor, which takes three years to complete.

Do law firms cover the cost of the GDL?

Tuition fees between law schools vary greatly and you can expect to pay somewhere between £5,000 and £11,000 for a year of full-time study.

It might be reassuring to know, then, that if a law firm recruits you before you’ve started your GDL, they may offer to sponsor you, meaning they’ll cover the cost of your tuition fees and could even provide you with a maintenance grant to help with your living costs.

Alternatively, many universities offer scholarships and bursaries to help students from less privileged backgrounds or those who have attained outstanding academic results.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to apply for a postgraduate loan while studying for your GDL, as only master’s-level qualifications are eligible for funding of this kind.


The GDL is a conversion course for non-law graduates who want want to pursue a career in the legal profession.

On a GDL course, you’ll learn about contract law, criminal law, equity and trusts, European Union (EU) law, land law, public law and tort law. You’ll be assessed on both coursework – which includes academic essays, problem questions and classroom debates – and two written exams, which you’ll take at the end of the academic year.

Because it’s an intensive course, which packs 18 months of study into one year, the GDL is hard work – but it’s essential for non-law graduates who want to become barristers, as it will continue to be the stepping stone you need to progress to the next stage of training.

If you’re an aspiring solicitor who’s already taken the GDL – or you started or accepted a place on a course on or before 1st September 2021 – you have until December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor by passing the LPC, completing a two-year training contract and meeting the character and suitability requirements of the SRA. After 1st September 2021, however, trainee solicitors will need to hold a degree in any subject, pass both the SQE1 and SQE2 exams, complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and meet the character and suitability requirements of the SRA.

Some of the international equivalents to the GDL are the LLB Law (Graduate Entry) in Scotland, the MLaw in Northern Ireland or the Juris Doctor in America, Canada and Australia.

The GDL costs anything from £5,000 to £11,000, but some law firms offer sponsorship opportunities to help students who have attained outstanding academic results or those from less privileged backgrounds.

Scroll to Top