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What to expect on the GDL

Selina Badiani

Bristows trainees come from a variety of academic backgrounds, including science, engineering and humanities, as well as law. For those of us who haven’t studied law, it is currently necessary to undertake the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) in order to qualify as a solicitor. However, enrolling for a year-long course can be fairly daunting, particularly if you have never studied any law before. This blog post should give you an idea of what to expect.

Studying the GDL with Bristows 

Bristows will pay for the cost of the GDL if you obtain your training contract offer before starting the course, and will reimburse any fees that you have already paid up to a fixed amount if you have already started your GDL when you receive your offer. Bristows will also offer you a maintenance grant during the GDL to help with your living costs. Bristows trainees typically attend BPP University in London for their GDL. The rest of this blog post will describe the GDL at BPP University, although other universities’ GDL courses are likely to be similar.

What will I learn?

GDL students will learn a variety of topics, from many different areas of law. Some of these will not necessarily be related to your future career as a commercial solicitor but all are required by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in order to give students a good initial understanding of the law. As the GDL is a fast-track course, it can be fairly time-pressured but is definitely manageable with good organisation and planning. 

Typical areas of study include:
• The English Legal System – gives an introduction to the sources of English law, the concept of equity and the court system;
• Contract Law – covers aspects such as the requirements for formation of a valid contract, remedies for breach of contract and what constitutes an ‘unfair’ contract term;
• Criminal Law – covers offences such as theft, murder, criminal damage and offences against the person (such as assault, battery and grievous bodily harm);
• Equity and Trusts Law – provides an introduction into the law of trusts, including formalities and constitution, secret trusts, private purpose trusts and trustee duties;
• EU Law – covers a range of topics such as direct and indirect effect, competition law and the free movement of goods, people and services;
• Land Law – covers topics such as sales of freehold land, adverse possession (squatting), leases and implied leases, easements and overriding interests, registered and unregistered land and co-ownership;
• The Law of Tort – an introduction to the law of negligence, including classical negligence, defamation, clinical negligence and vicarious liability; and
• Constitutional and Administrative Law – covers areas such as the interrelationship between Parliament, Government and the judiciary, judicial review and the Human Rights Act 1998.

There will also be some study of the SRA Code of Conduct which sets out the principles and rules by which solicitors are governed. There will also be an independent research task, usually on a topic of your choice. At BPP, this is known as the Independent Research Essay (IRE).

How will I be taught?

There are live lectures for almost every topic and students are encouraged to attend as many of these live lectures as possible in order to gain the maximum understanding. Recorded lectures are also available online. To supplement the lectures, there are tutorials (known as “Small Group Sessions” or “SGSs”) for every module, in groups of around 20. Each tutorial will require preparatory work, which will be discussed in the tutorial. The SGS gives you the opportunity to apply the law you have learnt in lectures to real-life situations, practice exam-style questions and ask your tutor about any queries you have. For each module, a set of “Study Notes” is provided, and these are a first port of call for all SGS preparation and revision. BPP will also provide all the key textbooks required.

How will I be assessed?

Assessment is usually via unseen, written examinations, although there is a coursework element (the IRE, as described above) and certain modules are assessed through online multiple choice tests. The grading system is generally: Pass, Commendation, Distinction, with a Distinction generally being awarded for aggregate scores of 70% and above.

What happens after the GDL?

After the GDL, the next step to becoming a qualified solicitor is undertaking the Legal Practice Course (LPC). See Hilde’s blog post for her top tips for success on the LPC!

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