What's it really like to move from the LLB to the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP)? Two students, Rachael Purvis from the University of Glasgow and Lauren Pennycook from the University of Edinburgh, tell us about their experiences and give their top tips for a successful transition.
Rachael Purvis is currently studying the DPLP at the University of Glasgow, after completing the LLB. Rachael supplements her studies by working at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, gaining invaluable legal experience. When she's not working, you’ll find her with her dog watching Netflix or gaming!
The last few weeks of my undergraduate were unimaginably different to what I’d expected – my dressing gown and a cuppa were hardly the gown and drink I’d expected on my graduation day! These expectations pale in comparison to Diploma providers transitioning from practical to virtual learning. This blog will, I hope, give you some advice and tips for preparing and undertaking your Diploma studies, from the perspective of a ‘virtual’ Diploma student at the University of Glasgow.
What is the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice?
The Diploma intends to bridge the gap between academic learning on the LLB and preparing to practise law. By virtue of the Diploma’s goal to prepare students to practise law, it is a very practical and hands on subject – you won’t be writing a single essay on the Diploma!
Instead, you’ll complete on-going assessments and work on your soft skills, such as drafting wills, negotiating with other students, and giving presentations. You’ll often have at least one assessment to complete weekly, sometimes two to three assessments for your different subjects will be due in one week. This is designed to prepare students to organise and meet simultaneous deadlines as they will in practice. Brush up on your basic knowledge of topics like contract and criminal law to make sure you have your academic legal foundation to build upon on the Diploma.
What is the virtual Diploma like?
It is likely the Diploma will, at the very least, be delivered through blended virtual / classroom learning in the next academic year. Despite some practical elements of the course, such as attending the Sheriff Court, being impossible, I’m greatly enjoying the experience. I’m able to pause, rewind, and re-watch Diploma lectures as they are now pre-recorded; I’ve had the chance to present a Plea in Mitigation to a Sheriff; and, with the pandemic showing employers that working from home/blended working is possible, it’s likely we might be working from home in the future, so it's been a chance to learn the nuances of Zoom/Teams etiquette, give speeches and work in virtual teams in a safe environment before going into practice.
The Diploma at Glasgow is mostly completed independently, compared to Diploma providers such as the University of Strathclyde who group students into law firms to complete work together. It is important to stay organised with concurrent deadlines, particularly at busy periods of the semester. By planning, you can include time to relax and recharge, crucial to retaining stamina to complete your Diploma and surviving in lockdown. Particularly with completing the Diploma at Glasgow during lockdown, it is important to reach out to your fellow Diploma students and the Diploma team – both have been a great help to me throughout my studies.
Think about mentoring!
In July 2020, I joined the Law Society of Scotland’s career development mentoring scheme with the goal of securing a traineeship. From providing practical support in helping me to achieve my career goals and having a moan about Zoom, my mentor has given me excellent support and guidance on handling lockdown, while remaining productive and focused. It’s comforting to speak to a professional who is also adjusting to working virtually and from home and I highly recommend signing up as a mentee!
Lauren Pennycook, DPLP student at the University of Edinburgh and recent LLB graduate from the University of Dundee, discusses her experience of moving on to study the Diploma during the pandemic and shares her top tips.
"The DPLP is more practical." This is a phrase I heard many times during talks on studying the DPLP and, here I am, about to repeat it again!
Since beginning the DPLP in September, I've had a mixture of both in-person and online workshops, with pre-recorded lectures and online exams as well. Semester one was a mix of 1.5 to 3-hour long classes in person, with semester two being a similar format, but entirely online.
Whilst in-person classes better suit how I learn, I have found online learning more enjoyable than I had originally anticipated. Being able to pause and rewind your tutor in pre-recorded lectures is a function I am glad they have added to the DPLP - if only we could do that in real-life!
The workload and teaching does differ from the LLB. Instead of writing essays, you are now submitting draft documents like Wills and Bail Letters and, as someone who didn’t always enjoy writing essays, drafting has been a welcome change.
There has also been a mix of traditional style exams (albeit open book and online) as well as multiple choice exams and, whilst my workload has increased, it is all relevant to working in the legal sector and great experience for moving on to the next stage!
A great example of this is the opportunity to be involved with FLAC (Edinburgh Law School's Free Legal Advice Centre). For this module, we are paired with a partner and offer advice to members of the public, under the supervision of volunteer solicitors.
In closing, these are my top tips for surviving the DPLP:
- Create an easily navigable filing system for notes, handouts and documents - I create a document combining lecture and class notes, which is especially helpful for exams.
- Look over your LLB notes – most useful for Conveyancing and Criminal Law courses. Being familiar with the topics gave me confidence and allowed me to score high marks for class participation.
- Use tabs to mark important sections in your statute books - This was the most helpful in Criminal and Civil Court Practice, where referring to specific rules or sections is necessary in understanding the procedure.
- Make lists - I have a spreadsheet of assignment deadlines and then daily lists of what is to be submitted, what class work needs completing, and the classes I have. Deadlines come thick and fast, but this definitely helped.
- Remember to speak to others - your peers will be feeling what you're feeling!
- Have caffeine to hand for the 6-9pm classes!