Many budding lawyers are plagued by this question, and I was no different. If you are unsure whether to embark on an LLB or the GDL route, the aim of this article is to assist your thinking process, by weighing up the pros and cons of both of these options.
After visiting a number of universities and writing my UCAS application, both on the premise of studying Law, I suddenly had a change of heart… which means I am a member of the latter group- “a different degree” (or, more commonly known in the legal world, “non-law”).
Philosophy was my chosen undergraduate degree à I then embarked on the GDL à took a year out of academia à I’m currently studying the Full time BPTC.
To some people this may seem a convoluted way of reaching the ‘end goal’. For me, it was right. At the time I was applying for university (2010), the financial crisis of 2008 was still a very current issue. I thought the extra year might mean that I had better prospects of getting a pupillage post-university. I enjoyed Philosophy, and although I knew I wanted to go into law, I was advised that doing a non-law degree might add another bow to my string. I’m about to apply for pupillage- so I shall soon find out!
It is important to understand that there is no longer a conventional route or way to start a career in law. Make your own path. Own it. Be able to explain in an interview why you chose it and how you have benefitted from it. It is widely known that today, in a majority of magic circle law firms, around half trainees have studied a variety of non- law degrees. In 2014, Robert Byke, partner at Slaughter and May claimed to employ solicitors who studied 126 different degree courses, including history, biology, languages, psychology and chemistry. These figures clearly show that those who have taken the GDL route are not disadvantaged at all.
The bottom line: there is no right or wrong route; just one that suits you best.
Here's what I have learnt along the way…
Pros of LLB.
Depth of study. A Law Degree gives you a wider understanding of different areas of the law and the opportunity to find out which areas of the law may be of a particular interest to you. This is undoubtedly useful when making applications for work experience (mini-pupillages/vac schemes) or the sacred training contract/pupillage.
Opportunities. As an LLB student, you will be given lots of opportunities, i.e. mooting, debating, work placements. You have 3 years to maximise your job prospects and hone your skill set.
Awareness. Law is on the brain. You will be informed of ‘recent’ cases, new laws and topical issues most likely within an educational environment. This awareness will be useful when applying for work experience or jobs. You will be knowledgeable on numerous areas of the law, which if you decide to take the GDL, you may have to otherwise research and discover off your own back and in your own time.
Competition. This is sometimes ‘the elephant in the room’. In the end, we all want the same thing, or the same 2 things: a training contract or pupillage. Being surrounded by like-minded people from day 1, who are all pursuing the same goal, may give you the extra bit of motivation to keep focused and pull out all the stops to get you where you want to be.
Decisions. Having been exposed to a variety of modules, and being able to choose areas of the law which you find stimulating, doing an LLB can help to refine what area of the law you are interested in. This decision can help tailor your career down a chosen legal path, which strengthens your position and ability to show dedication to a certain area of law, when applying for a job.
Cons of LLB.
Transferable Skills. Doing a non-law degree, gives you the opportunity to develop transferable skills that you wouldn’t necessarily attain by studying straight law.
Practical. The LLB is theoretical not practical. Due to the practical emphasis on both the LPC and BPTC courses and in practice, by studying the LLB, you don’t have a significant advantage over those who did a non-law degree.
University choice. The LLB is highly competitive. It may be harder to get into the university of your choice if you apply for the LLB. Some courses may also ask for the LNAT, which adds another dimension to the competition.
Blinkered. Doing an LLB means you may be more likely to focus your whole university career on getting that elusive training contract or pupillage. Yes, it is important to show you are dedicated to pursuing a career in law but it is also important to remember that employers want all-rounded students, with interests in other areas- not just in law.
Pros of a non-law degree.
TIME. The GDL is an extra year of studying and an extra year of not earning a full-time income. In my experience- don’t let this put you off! Who doesn’t love being a student after all? The GDL is only 9 more months of studying; yet the outcome is that you are as equally proficient as those coming from 3 years of studying the LLB.
Conditioning. The GDL prepares you for the LPC or BPTC. Having focused study for one year means you are used to the intensity and understand what is expected of you in the final stage of your studies.
Hardwork. The GDL is tough. You may have heard the horror stories. But if you are organised from day one; appreciate that this is a post-graduate qualification and keep focused, you will get through- trust me, I did! This intensity of study arguably conditions you to work at a level that would be expected of a lawyer.
Standing out. Studying a non-law degree gives you something extra to talk about at interview and can make your application stand out from the crowd. If half of trainees today study the LLB and half study different degrees, think how many other non-law degrees you can do. You could be the only person who has studied micro-biology and this may make you memorable, which is what we all aim to be.
Passion. If there is a subject you love at school, or perhaps a new subject which you are interested in studying, you can spend 3/4 years at university being completely engrossed in it. Your career in the law is going to last many years, so this is the opportunity to study something else. You will be studying the law (through practice) for many years to come!
Cons of a non-law degree.
Depth of Study. The GDL only encompasses the key core modules. If you have a particular interest or are passionate about a certain area of the law, you may find the GDL is limiting and therefore you may be more suited to the LLB.
Focus. Firstly, as a non-LLB student, “law” may not necessarily be on your periphery during your undergraduate years. This may be because you aren’t surrounded by other, like-minded students, who share the same desire of becoming a ‘lawyer’. In addition to this, not being part of a Law faculty may mean you aren’t open to the opportunities that law students are. Make sure you create your own. If you know that you want to embark on a career in law, you have to demonstrate that you are dedicated and motivated to pursuing this career even more so than someone studying law.
COST. University fees could play a significant factor in your decision. Although a student loan is available for undergraduate study, this is not the case with post-graduate study. The GDL costs between approximately £5,000 to £11,000 depending on your chosen provider. Although this may seem like a significant financial burden, there are many scholarships available to aid this cost. From providers to Inn’s, there are numerous scholarships on offer. Scholarships not only provide financial relief but are a great addition to your CV too. If you have already secured a training contract prior to GDL, your fees may be paid, and some firms will also provide a maintenance grant. NB: There are also newer options available from certain providers i.e. Northumbria University, M Law Exempting (LPC) or (BPTC) course. This course encompasses an LLB degree, Masters degree and either the LPC or BPTC, all within 4 years.
Long slog. By the time you finish your undergraduate degree, the prospect of doing 2 more years of studying can be quite daunting. I took a year out between the GDL and BPTC to earn some money, gain some experience and also to have a break from studying- others don’t.
Knowledge. As the GDL only encompasses the main core modules; tort, criminal, contract, European, public, trusts, land and a module of your choice, you may feel that you aren’t sure what type of law inspires you most while applying for training contracts and pupillage. Not doing a law degree means you may have to work harder to show you are dedicated to a particular area of the law on an application, when you may not know what this is as you haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore different areas of law.
I hope that this list helps you to make your decision and good luck!