Cian Gullen, a 2021/22 Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP) graduate from Aberdeen University shares her insights on how she made her decision about where to study the Diploma, the format of her studies, highlights and tips and advice for future Diploma students.
Why did you choose to study your diploma at Aberdeen University? (What drew you to that specific Diploma provider, what was important to you)?
I decided to study the Diploma at Aberdeen because the structure of the course really appealed to me. I was particularly interested in the continuous assessment aspect as opposed to exams, as I felt this would be more like the work I’d do as a trainee.
If you decided to do the Diploma at a different university from your LLB, what was the reason for this?
I was flexible in terms of where I was willing to go for the Diploma. In the end, it came down to the choice of electives. I felt the options at Aberdeen were better suited to my interests, and ultimately, I’d enjoy studying them more. I was fortunate to be able to stay in the same city as I was in for my LLB, so I was able to keep in touch with friends who stayed as well as meet new people on the course.
What was the best thing/highlight about your Diploma experience?
I really enjoyed the practical elements of the course. I learn much better by putting things into practice, so being able to apply my knowledge to different scenarios in a more realistic context really helped develop my understanding.
Were there any negatives or improvements that could have been made to your Diploma experience?
There were a few occasions where seminars were delivered in a virtual format where it was a pre-recorded presentation. I found these difficult to follow; however, there was also a benefit in being able to watch them when it suited me and refer back to them if needed, which was useful.
Did you attend classes in person or virtually or a hybrid of both?
Most of my classes were in person, but there were students who studied fully online. We also had a few full course sessions that were conducted virtually as large group teaching wasn’t possible.
Did your Diploma provider offer a work based placement option or module or work experience?
Did you work alongside studying the Diploma, if so, did you feel this was manageable? (How many hours per week on average did you work)?
I worked part-time in a bar while studying. I worked around 15-20 hrs a week (usually one weekday evening and a weekend shift) and found this to be manageable alongside the workload of the Diploma. I think it’s important to find a balance. I made sure to keep time free for catching up on work each week and made sure that I also had time to myself.
How do you feel that the University responded to the COVID-19/Omicron pandemic?
I feel they responded well and offered a lot of support for students who had to isolate or were not comfortable attending in-person classes. Personally, I didn’t need to use the support offered so others may have had different experiences.
Do you feel that you are ready to go into practice as a trainee?
I feel the Diploma definitely helped me feel more prepared for my traineeship, but I still felt very nervous before starting. I think it’s pretty normal to have those nerves, though. I do feel ready to get to work as a trainee overall, and I’m sure as I go through my different seats, I’ll see learn even more and grow in confidence.
Have you secured a traineeship? If not, are you seeking one or do you wish to take a different route or do something else? If so, what?
I was fortunate enough to secure a traineeship a few weeks after finishing the Diploma, which came about quite unexpectedly. I would say to anyone starting without a traineeship not to be too stressed over it as a lot of people are in the same position.
What are your top tips/advice for future Diploma students?
One of the biggest things I’d stress is that the Diploma isn’t like your LLB. While you’re still a student (and you should definitely enjoy that while you can), it’s your first step in your professional training. The tutors on your course are all experienced solicitors (and potentially your future colleagues). This is the perfect time to build professional connections that will last through your legal career. Avoid making a bad impression and engage with the learning as much as you can.
Another thing to remember is that this isn’t an academic course like the LLB; you might find it more difficult to get used to the style of assessment depending on your strengths. It’s important to remember that you learn from each task and think about how you can apply your learning as a trainee in the future instead of stressing over the grade you get.
Do you feel like the Diploma is affordable and accessible for all and fair/socially mobile?
I do think the Diploma is very expensive. I know a lot of students from lower-income families feel an extra layer of pressure to secure a traineeship before the course, as some larger firms will pay their fees. It also doesn’t help that the majority of providers do not offer their Alumni discounts for the course, and the postgraduate loan is significantly less than the fees charged.
If anything, what would you change about the way the Diploma is delivered in Scotland? Do you think this could be done differently to make it more accessible to all?
I think more funding should be made available to Diploma students. The gap in funding from undergraduate to postgraduate is a big one in terms of living costs. Alternatively, if providers had more online study options, this would allow people to study from home, where their living costs might not be as high, which would also help them financially.
I hope that you find this post useful and if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me on Linkedin.
By Cian Gullen
First Year Trainee Solicitor at Aberdeenshire Council
2021/22 DPLP Graduate - Aberdeen University
LLB Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen
The Scottish Lawyer has created a FREE template especially geared towards assisting you with making your decision on where to study the Diploma and tracking your application progress - click here to access it via our website and download your own template now.
You can find more information about studying the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice on the Law Society of Scotland's website.
Views expressed in guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The Scottish Lawyer.