In defence of the GDL

I’ve recently heard a lot of criticism aimed at the GDL and its students so I decided to make a rebuttal. A quick background: I read Politics at the University of Nottingham and will be doing the BPTC at Nottingham Law School from September this year.

Now I know the usual ’normal’ (three-year) law student’s critique of the GDL is that it produces substandard lawyers, who couldn’t possibly have learnt enough during the nine-month course to then do the vocational courses and progress to practice.

Well, so far this year the combination of lectures/ seminars and work at home has surpassed the number of hours you’d work in a full-time office job.

It’s not easy learning what some people do in three years, in nine short months and contrary to popular belief we don’t get to ’cut corners’ or miss things out. We do the seven core modules and sadly we’re not afforded the luxury of doing electives related to our preferred practice areas. We’re assessed fortnightly and many of us do mooting, law centre work, debating and even the occasional messy night out where someone uses their newfound knowledge to dispute a restaurant bill or quiz the local bobbies on their knowledge of the PACE Act 1984. Needless to say this balancing act is tough going.
In short, it’s not easy being a GDL student, especially compared to those doing a law degree – we don’t get a nice comfy first year to settle in and scrape through with 40s – we just get thrown in the deep end from day one and it’s pretty much sink or swim. ’Proper’ law students have the gift of only having to deal with trusts in their third year, by which time they’ve gotten used to all the basics and probably know quite a lot of law already. We on the other hand had a trusts assessment a few weeks into the course! Needless to say after Christmas, we noticed there were a few people missing from lectures. 
A friend of mine who did a science degree opted for a two-year LLB instead of the GDL and is coping fine. He’s spending roughly the same amount of money as me and only a year extra, learning at a nice, steady pace. He still has a ’uni style’ social life and a part-time job (the latter of which is nigh on impossible on the GDL, please don’t even try). He probably made the smarter choice to be honest, the GDL can often be a harsh mistress.
Finally, there’s a tactical advantage to doing the GDL. Everyone reading this will want to be a solicitor or barrister. Learning the bulk of the law by around April on the GDL is great for Easter/ Summer interviews for vacation schemes, training contracts, mini-pupillages and pupillage where you may be tested on the law. For us, it’s fresh in the mind, for Johnny Law Degree it’s an absolute pain having to rifle through old first year land law notes before interviews at traditional Chancery sets!
Overall, I will not entertain any suggestion that the GDL is a ’cop out’ or the cheat’s way in because the reality is that it’s very intense and demanding and it’s regarded as equal to a law degree by firms and chambers (the recruitment stats don’t lie). As for whether it’s worth doing it over a law degree, I really can’t say but be warned that the GDL route is rather a masochistic one.

Rajesh Vora is a GDL student