Law degrees and Law conversion courses
We answer questions about qualifying Law degrees and Law conversion courses, and look at different types of courses across the UK.
Qualifying Law degrees and Law conversion courses include the core knowledge required for trainee lawyers. Broadly, they cover the foundations of legal knowledge and teach skills such as legal research. They prepare you for the next level of vocational training for becoming a barrister, solicitor or advocate, or chartered legal executive.
Qualifying Law degrees
A qualifying Law degree (QLD) is an undergraduate degree in Law. It provides the foundation of the legal knowledge required for a career in law. Courses take two to four years.
Law conversion courses
If you have a degree in another subject, you can study an accelerated course that'll give you the legal knowledge needed to get to the same level as someone with an undergraduate Law degree.
There are graduate Law degree courses, which take two or more years, where you achieve a QLD. In England and Wales you can currently take a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), an intensive course that packs all content into one or two years.
Does it matter if your first degree isn't a Law degree?
The short answer is no, as you can study a Law conversion or graduate Law course.
Good grades in a first degree are vital – whether in Law or not. For prospective barristers or advocates, a 2:2 is the absolute minimum required (2:1 in Northern Ireland). In all cases, better grades mean a better chance of securing the in-work training you'll need to finish qualifying.
Can you become a lawyer without a degree?
If you want to become a barrister (or advocate in Scotland), you must start with a degree. It doesn't have to be a Law degree, but you will need good grades.
There are some alternatives to university courses, mainly in England, with degree-level apprenticeships available for solicitors and chartered legal executives. Chartered legal executives can also qualify via in-work training courses with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). In Scotland it’s possible for those who work in the legal sector to take the required legal exams towards becoming a solicitor before vocational training.
How courses are approved and changes from 2021
The above courses are approved by the regulators for the legal profession. There are regulators for the different types of lawyer in the UK's three separate legal systems: England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Each regulator decides the training required to qualify as a lawyer for the profession (solicitor, barrister, etc.). In practice, the first stage of training (the 'academic stage') is usually the same for solicitors and barristers.
The system in England and Wales is changing. See here for more information about changes coming from 2021.
QLDs can be designated as an LLB – Latin for Bachelor of Law – or sometimes a BA or BSc if combined with another subject (such as Criminology or a language). There are full-time and part-time options, as well as distance learning. In some cases, Law degrees with foundation years are available if you don't meet the entry standards for direct undergraduate entry.
QLDs can be long courses that cost more. However, this gives you more of a chance to explore several different areas of interest.
After completing a qualifying Law degree, you can start your vocational training.
Qualifying Law degrees in England and Wales
In England and Wales, QLD courses must include the seven foundations of legal knowledge, English legal systems and legal research. Each subject must be passed and the degree completed in six years, whether it’s studied full- or part-time. Courses are currently recognised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) on behalf of both the SRA and the Bar Standards Board (BSB), but see the bottom of this page for the coming changes.
Exempting Law degrees in England and Wales
There are also four-year exempting Law degrees (ELDs). These combine a QLD with the vocational Legal Practice Course (LPC) currently required for solicitors, or more rarely the Bar Professional Training Course required by barristers. These qualifications are designated as a master’s degree.
Six universities offer the exempting Law degree: Huddersfield, Northumbria (for both solicitors and barristers), Pearson College London (validated by University of Kent), University of Central Lancashire, University of South Wales and the University of Westminster.
Graduates from exempting Law degrees can go straight to the in-work stage of training for their branch of the profession.
Qualifying Law degrees in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, QLDs are ‘recognised Law degrees’. A list of these is available on the Institute of Professional Legal Studies (IPLS) website. Included are courses in England and Wales, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland (but not the LLB in Scots Law).
You must complete your QLD within a set period of time and pass all core subjects. You can then continue with vocational training if you want to become a solicitor or barrister in Northern Ireland.
Degrees from Queen's University, Belfast and Ulster University are approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Bar Standards Board (BSB). This means you can progress your legal career in Northern Ireland, England or Wales. However, there are changes taking place from 2021 in England and Wales – see bottom of this page.
Qualifying Law degrees in Scotland
Scotland has a separate legal system and the fundamentals of law differ. Commonly, a trainee solicitor starts with a QLD – an LLB in Scots law.
The course takes three years full-time or four years if studied as honours. It can be studied at one of the ten universities accredited by the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates. Some universities offer ‘dual degrees’ in both Scots and English law, which qualify you to practise as a solicitor in Scotland, England and Wales.
There are subjects specified by the Law Society that must be taken as part of your degree so you can progress onto vocational training. Entry to the vocational course is assessed on the grades you gain at first exam sitting. If you’re training to become an advocate, you’ll also need to study the subjects specified by the Faculty of Advocates.
Advocates and solicitors both complete the same vocational qualification and period of in-work training as a solicitor, before the path of advocates diverges.
How to apply for a qualifying Law degree
Check the degree meets the requirements of regulators: for England and Wales, currently the SRA; for Northern Ireland, check with the Institute of Professional Legal Studies; for Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates. Applications are made via UCAS.
On completion of a Law conversion course, you can start your vocational training to become a solicitor, barrister or advocate, or chartered legal executive. As with QLDs, there are different systems for different countries.
Law conversion courses in England and Wales
If you’re a non-Law student, you have the option of an intensive Law conversion course (Common Professional Examination or Graduate Diploma in Law), senior status or graduate LLB degree, or conversion LLM (Masters of Law). These may alter with the changes planned after 2021 in England and Wales (see bottom of page).
Law conversion course (CPE/GDL)
The core legal subjects are packed into a one-year intensive course, or two-years via part-time or distance learning. The CPE can be designated as a GDL to fit with university academic qualification frameworks.
Applications for full-time courses are via the Central Applications Board. For part-time applications, you can usually apply directly to the relevant institution. Tuition fees can range widely depending on the institution and your resident status. International students can expect to pay more.
Senior status or graduate LLB degree, or conversion LLM (Master of Law)
Two-year senior status LLB degrees are more in-depth than a one-year conversion course, but also more expensive. They include the seven core foundations of legal knowledge but also have elective modules, allowing you to explore your interests further and understand law in a socio-economic and political context.
Master’s courses include two-year qualifying Law degrees and one-year conversion courses that are open to non-Law graduates. Applications for courses that include a CPE/GDL conversion may be through the Central Applications Board for full-time places. Applications for courses designated as undergraduate courses (senior status LLBs) are submitted via UCAS. Otherwise, approach an institution directly to apply.
Funding Law conversion courses
Fees range from around £6,000 per year to the maximum tuition fee level (currently £9,250). International students can expect to pay more.
Some law firms take graduates as trainee solicitors and fund their part-time study towards a Law conversion course. However, these positions are rare and competitive.
If you’re a prospective barrister, you can apply for a scholarship for the GDL from one of the Inns of Court. You don't need to be a member of these societies before applying. Scholarships are generally awarded on merit – good grades from a first degree are essential.
Otherwise, master’s level courses may open up the option of a postgraduate loan, depending on eligibility. You should consider this option carefully – becoming a solicitor or barrister is highly competitive, and good grades from a first degree will still be essential. Loan funding can only apply to one course of study and further vocational qualifications are required to practise law.
General entry requirements for graduates
You’ll need a minimum of 2:2 in a UK or Republic of Ireland degree. Some providers require higher grades. For Law conversion courses, providers may accept applicants with ‘equivalent means’ (e.g. training via CILEx). If you’re hoping to become a barrister you should first apply to the BSB for a Certificate of Academic Standing.
International applicants require equivalent qualifications – if you want to become a barrister, you should apply to the BSB for a Certificate of Academic Standing. You’ll also have to provide evidence of your English language ability.
Graduate qualifying Law courses in Northern Ireland
If you’re a non-Law graduate, you can take a two-year senior status or master’s Law degree in Northern Ireland, or otherwise a ‘recognised Law degree’ from elsewhere in the UK. These include some two-year senior status qualifying Law degrees and GDL courses.
A list of recognised Law degrees is found on the website of IPLS at Queen's University, Belfast. The IPLS manages all professional training for barristers and solicitors in Northern Ireland.
Fees for courses vary depending on the type and length of course. The two-year MLaw at Queen’s University is £7,640–16,900 per year (2020–21), with the option of a postgraduate loan depending on eligibility.
Once completed, the next stage is vocational training for both solicitors and barristers at the IPLS. Entry to the vocational course for barristers requires a minimum of 2:1 in a degree.
Courses and contracts in Scotland
Scotland has a separate legal system and therefore the fundamentals of law differ. You must take exams in the subjects specified by the Law Society to continue onto the vocational qualification. Non-Law graduates can take an accelerated Scots Law degree. Those working in the legal sector can complete a ‘pre-PEAT training contract’.
After these courses, advocates and solicitors complete the same vocational qualification and a period of in-work training as a solicitor. Then the path of advocates diverges.
Graduate qualifying Law courses in Scotland
The two-year accelerated degree in Scots Law can be studied for at a provider accredited by the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates. Currently offered by eight institutions, it leads to an ordinary degree in Scots Law. There are also graduate-entry degrees in Scots and English law.
Subjects specified by the Law Society must be taken as part of the degree to progress onto vocational training, assessed on the grades gained at first exam sitting. Advocates also require subjects specified by the Faculty of Advocates.
Entry requires a 2:2 or 2:1 from a first degree and you can apply via UCAS for full-time courses. Fees are liable if you take the LLB as a second degree. Scholarships may be available.
Pre-PEAT training contracts
If you work in the legal sector you may be able to enter a three-year 'pre-PEAT training contract' with a Scottish solicitor. This is for those who don’t want to or may be unable to attend university. However, it can be a more challenging option as you have to balance work and studies.
The training lasts three years where you study while working in a solicitor’s office. The contract must cover a range of prescribed areas and include the Work Based Learning Module set by the Law Society. During the training contract, you complete coursework and professional exams. You can then continue to vocational study.
The Law Society doesn't set pre-PEAT training contracts but it can help you find training firms or organisations to work with.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Bar Standards Board (BSB) are moving to a new system where they no longer formally approve Law degrees and graduate Law courses. From autumn 2021, the requirements to become a solicitor will change, with a new two-stage Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). For this pathway, as a trainee solicitor, you’ll need:
a degree or equivalent to pass the two SQE exams gain substantial recognised work experience (which can be part of your degree) and pass SRA's Character and Suitability requirements.
Law degrees will prepare prospective solicitors for the new SQE exams, and may also include the in-work experience required. Check with universities whether courses meet the requirements for training as a barrister or solicitor in England and Wales.
Non-Law graduates will no longer need a GDL, but instead an SQE preparation course before the two SQE stages. If you’re a prospective barrister, a qualification covering the seven foundations of legal knowledge will still be required, whether in a Law degree or non-Law degree followed by further graduate or postgraduate study.
The SQE will sit outside the academic system. It will be run by Kaplan and comprise two exams. Find out more about the SQE on our page on how to become a solicitor. The Bar Standards Board is also reviewing their vocational training – see our page on how to become a barrister.