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A Guide to Postgraduate Law

Do you find yourself constantly getting into debates – and winning? Are you a regular at protests and demonstrations? Do you have an interest in criminology, human rights, or the environment? If you’re a confident public speaker with a strong sense of justice, or even if you want to change the world, a postgraduate law course could set you on the path to your dream job.



What Sort of Person Would It Suit?

what sort of personality would it suit
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Aside from having an interest in the inner workings of the law, any budding legal eagles will need to be confident speaking in public, as well as being able to listen and process information quickly, as the smallest detail revealed in passing can be enough to turn a case around.

You’ll also need to be able to stay cool, calm and collected under pressure, as legal debates can occasionally get more than a little heated.


What Types of Law Qualifications Can You Do?

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When it comes to postgraduate law courses, there are plenty to choose from, depending on your experience level and which area of legal practice you’d like to move into. All should help you to progress towards either a training contract to become a solicitor, or a pupillage, which is required if you want to become a barrister.

Here are some of the main qualifications you can do:


An LLM, or Master of Laws, is a postgraduate degree in law. Taking an LLM helps you gain expertise in a specialised field of the law such as immigration, financial or tax law. As such, most, although not all, universities will only accept applicants with an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) degree onto their LLM courses. Most courses last up to a year full time, and you’ll usually have the option to study part time or by distance learning too.

Anthony Rogers, a senior lecturer on the LLM Maritime Law programme at City Law School, part of City University says, “LLMs in particular can take up a year or more of your time, and can be very expensive, plus you’ll need a strong first degree in order to keep up. However, they are great preparation for further study like a PhD, and an LLM with a dedicated subject base, such as in banking law or maritime law is particularly useful.”



The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is commonly known as the law conversion course. A fast track qualification for graduates of other degree areas, you won’t need any prior knowledge of the law, just an undergraduate degree in any subject.

The GDL is one of the most popular postgraduate law courses because you can study another subject first and still be qualified in law in just a year if you study full time. It’s also a great option for mature students switching careers after already spending some time in the workforce.

You can study for a GLD full time at a university or college, but there are plenty of options for part time or night time study, while some universities, such as the University of Exeter, offer GDL courses which are conducted entirely online.



If you’re certain that you want to a barrister, who represents either clients or the state in court, you might want to consider applying to a Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The BPTC is sometimes referred to as the vocational stage of law training, where you’ll get to cut your teeth in litigation, sentencing and advocacy, and really hone your legal skills in preparation for a pupillage (the last stage of training for would be barristers).

To get a place on a BPTC you’ll normally need to have at least an undergraduate degree in law, or a degree in another subject and to have successfully completed a GDL. You’ll need to take a Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) as part of your application, and it’s a requirement for all students taking the BPTC to join one of the four Inns of Court before your course starts.


Other Options

The LLM isn’t the only master’s degree you can pursue in law or a legal subject – you can also study MAs and MScs too. Not all master’s degrees will count as part of your professional legal training in the way that an LLM often does, so it pays to check if you’re pursuing a postgraduate degree as part of your career development rather than purely out of academic interest.


Postgraduate Law Courses

law courses
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‘The law’ covers a huge number of different subject areas and specialisms – whatever your interest, there will be a law course to match.

Most courses will focus on just one specialism, although there are some that take in two closely related areas, such as banking and financial law or computer and communications law. All courses should teach you the basics, so you’ll be free to follow your heart and choose the course that most matches your interests and goals. Here are just a few options:


Criminal Law

Criminal law is among the most popular law courses. Fast paced and challenging, it will prepare you for a career in the criminal justice system, fighting cases involving everything from petty theft right through to murder.

Criminal lawyers can work in the very highest courts, such as the Old Bailey in London, and may even work on some high profile cases. So if you grew up watching ‘Law & Order’ and dreamt of putting the bad guys behind bars or standing up for the wrongly accused, a course in criminal law may well be for you. Typical courses include criminal law, criminal justice and criminology, while some modules you may study include Criminal Procedure, Sentencing and Ethics.


Civil Law

Civil law is a very broad term that refers to all areas of non-criminal law, mostly dealing with private disputes between people and organisations, such as libel cases, employment tribunals and family disputes such as child custody cases or divorce settlements.

A civil law degree will teach you the practical skills you need to work in the civil field, such as City University’s LLM Civil Litigation and Dispute Resolution. Commonly offered modules include Civil Litigation, Mediation and Negotiation and International Dispute Settlement.


International Law

The clue's in the name with this one - if you choose to study international law, you'll be learning about international relations, and how the law relates to events and affairs that affect the global community.

It's a great choice for students who wish to work for big international compan ies, or famous organisations like the International Court of Justice, and may involve some work in the environmental and human rights fields too. Some modules you might study are International Trade Law, Internet Law and International Protection of Human Rights.


Environmental Law

Sometimes known as natural resources law, environmental law is the study of the treaties, regulations and other agreements that govern our use of natural resources, and the impact of human activity on the environment.

It's ideal for students with an interest renewable energy and other green issues, and could well involve work on an international as well as a national scale. Typical modules on offer include International Energy and Environmental Law, Energy, Innovation and the Law and Corporate Environmental Liability.


Human Rights Law

Human rights law is a branch of international law which works to protect human rights. This could involve a focus on a global, national or even regional scale, leading to a career with a local authority or council, the government or an international organisation such as the United Nations.

If you know every article of the European Convention on Human Rights off by heart, and were a fan of globe-trotting human rights advocate Amal Alamuddin before she became Mrs Clooney, this could be the focus for you. Modules such as International Criminal Law, Development and the International Community and International Human Rights are frequent options.


Maritime Law

Maritime law is a niche but fascinating specialism relating to all things ocean-bound - this could mean working on matters such as marine insurance, shipping contracts and national and international marine based arbitration.

It's not quite NCIS, but it is ideal for anyone with a broad interest in insurance, sales and trading regulations, especially as they pertain to the millions of commercial vessels still used to import and export goods all over the world. Typical modules include Insurance Law, Public International Law and Dispute Settlement.


Other Options

There are plenty of other law specialisms you can study, including:

  • Tax Law
  • Banking and Financial Law
  • Business and Commercial Law
  • Healthcare Law
  • International Law, Ethics and Politics
  • General LLM


Why Study It?

why study it
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As well as gaining an enviable knowledge of the law, you’ll also pick up a whole host of transferrable skills that are applicable to both legal and non-legal careers, as well as being helpful in your day-to-day life too.

You’ll become a confident public speaker, able to convince just about anyone of their ideas (handy for job interviews!); your ability to think critically and quickly will make you an ace hand at problem solving, and your advanced legal knowledge will be seen as a valuable asset to many businesses in and outside of the legal professional, as most companies have dealings with the law to some degree.


What Careers Can I Do?

law careers
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The most obvious career choices for graduates of postgrad law courses include solicitor and barrister, as well as jobs such as legal executive, legal secretary, and paralegal.

However, if you choose a career completely outside of the law, you’ll find there are plenty of roles in business, banking and even politics just waiting to be filled by someone with your unique skill set. Anthony Rogers told us that students of his maritime law course in particular often go on to work in “the legal departments of shipping companies, in insurance companies and the P and I clubs.”

Jobs in the banking and finance industry tend to be highly respected and well paid, and many require a solid grasp of basic laws and legal concepts, making you a shoo-in! And if you’ve got a good head for numbers, you might find you thrive as a chartered accountant or tax advisor (particularly pertinent if you studied tax law). Or you could use your basic skills in business law to carve out a career as an investment banker, commodities broker or insurance agent.

Another obvious choice would be a role in public service; your knowledge would obviously come in handy as a police officer, but you could also apply your degree to roles such as immigration officer and political research assistant.

Alternatively, your expertise could be required by news organisations as a print or broadcast journalist, and your polished public speaking skills would make you a natural for a career in public relations.

Outside of these options, you could choose to work for a charity as an advice worker or aid and development worker, or you could become a teacher, personal advisor or even a librarian! Basically, there’s virtually nowhere that a qualification in law can’t take you.


How to Fund It

how to fund it
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Like all postgraduate study, postgraduate law qualifications can be a big financial commitment. So how do you fund it? Thankfully there are lots of resources at your disposal...


Government Loans

Worth up to £10,000, these new government loans will be available from 2016 to students wishing to study a master’s degree (LLM, MSc or MA) in any subject. You’ll need to start paying the loan back once you’re earning over £21,000, alongside any unpaid undergraduate loans. The only catch is, you have to be under 30.

Remember, at the moment, these loans are only set to be available to students pursuing a master’s degree, so if you’re planning on studying for a different kind of qualification, such as the GDL or BPTC, you’ll need to look elsewhere for funding.


Career Development Loans

Career development loans are a staple for this sort of course, as they are available to people who can prove that their course is essential for them to further their career or to find work.

You apply through your bank or building society, who may fund all or part of your course, and loans can range from £300 up to £10,000. Remember this is a bank loan though, so it’s not interest free. The Skills Funding Agency covers your interest while you’re still studying and for a month afterwards, but after that you’re on your own. Unlike the government, the bank won’t wait until you’re earning a set amount before expecting you to start making repayments; your loan will become repayable one month after finishing your course.


Research Council Grants

If you choose a research based route, such as studying for a PhD in law or a legal subject, you may be able to access funding via the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). You could get a loan to cover your tuition fees and may also be eligible for a grant to help with your living costs – up to £14,000 in total. Competition is very tough though and you’ll likely need a high 2:1 or even a first in your undergraduate degree to be in with a chance.


University Scholarships, Bursaries and Awards

If you don’t think you’ll qualify for a loan, or don’t want to take on the additional debt, it’s always worth checking with your university if they have any alternative law-specific funding available.

The University of Law in London, for example, offers a number of scholarships and bursaries totalling £400,000 for students wishing to study  the GDL or Legal Practice Course (LPC) who do not otherwise have the means to do so.

Even if you don’t see anything you think you can apply for, it’s worth asking your university for help as they’re likely to know about any local businesses etc that may offer their own schemes.


Employer Sponsorship

If you’re already working or set to start at a new job, you may be able to ask your employer to contribute towards your course fees.

Some businesses already offer schemes for employees or potential employees wishing to take work-related courses, but even if not, it’s always worth enquiring, particularly if you’re already in the legal profession and can demonstrate that the course will help you progress in your career there.

Beware that most employers who agree to fund your studies will require you stay in their employment for a set period after you gain your qualification, usually a minimum of a year or more.



If all else fails, there’s always good, old fashioned hard work to fall back on. Lots of students take a break between their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees to save money by working, and, with the numerous options for part time, evening and online study, it’s perfectly possible to balance a postgraduate law course with a full time job.

Anthony Rogers says, “Typically, there will be much less contact time (on an LLM) than on an LLB - perhaps as little as 4 hours per week”, which should make it more than possible to fit around a job if you study part time. However, he also advised that “students are expected to do a lot of private reading and legal research”, so you’ll have to be prepared to sacrifice some of your social life to catch up on course materials.


Case Study

case study
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To give you the full picture about postgraduate law courses, we spoke to Sayem Rahman about his experience studying for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) at the University of Law…


Why Did You Choose To Study the GDL?

Having worked as a court stenographer (the people with typewriters taking down everything said in court) for a year, I had watched the barristers in action and decided I wanted to be one of them myself. So I asked around, spoke to a few, and learned about the GDL, which would give me the law qualification needed to enrol on the Bar.


How Did You Fund It?

I was lucky that my parents were able to support me by paying my fees, but I did the course part time, while continuing to work as a stenographer, which eased the financial burden by splitting the fees over two years, and meant that I didn't have to take out any more loans because I was funding any additional costs by working and earning in a job relevant to my course.


What Was Your Favourite Aspect of the Course?

The discussions in class and the advocacy exercises, which pushed me further towards the Bar.


What Was Your Least Favourite Aspect of the Course?

Probably the amount of pre-class reading required - trying to fit in 100-odd pages total for the next class could be a struggle at times, especially after a tiring day at work.


What Do You Hope To Go On To Do in Your Career?

At the moment I'm working as a paralegal for a small City firm, but am still applying for pupillage with chambers. I'm still keen for the Bar but I realise that it's very difficult at the moment and that's why I'm looking at becoming a legal executive. That way, if I don't get pupillage, I can still work in a law firm and I can still do advocacy as a legal executive.


Do You Have Any Advice for Students Thinking About Doing the GDL?

I would say work in a law firm, a court or anywhere law-related for at least 6 months. Alternatively, volunteer for a charity like Shelter or the Free Representation Unit which gives you opportunities to conduct advocacy in employment tribunals, or any organisations that give you an opportunity to have hands on experience of the law. Try and do that for enough time so that you know what is involved in practicing law and to help you realise or not whether law is actually for you.

If you are absolutely dedicated to going into the law, I would advise seeing if you can apply early for either a training contract for a pupillage, or a scholarship or a bursary from whichever relevant organisation awards them.

Finally, be realistic with yourself and remember you’re up against hundreds of thousands of people who want to go into the law. You can be a great candidate, but you'll be up against so much competition that very often you may not get a training contract or a pupillage on the first go, the second go, or even the third go. However, if you stick at it, then you'll have a better chance than the people that decide to give up.

Make sure you chat with your careers advisors who can tell you about what else you can go into with your GDL qualification. Don't forget you can also do the ILEX qualification, which is essentially work-based, to be a legal executive. If you do the GDL you can actually skip quite a few exams, and legal executives are practically on par with solicitors these days anyway. If you've got the determination and the strength to keep going, you will get there.


Your Next Steps


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