Taking after Damira Hatam who has provided excellent overview of studying for graduate degrees in law (M.Jur. and LL.M.) at British and American law schools, I would like to share our experience of studying for J.D. (Juris Doctor) degrees at Canadian law schools.
First of all, I would like to note some “legalese”:
- I have written this article in English for two main reasons:
i. in order not to deprive our Russian speaking audience by writing only in Uzbek; and
ii. as the subject-matter of this article relates to legal education in Canada, most terms are better understood when explained in English, rather than in Russian or Uzbek;
2. This article should not be accepted as legal advice and all statements in this article are personal opinion of the authors;
3. When I refer to J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree, I do not mean graduate or doctorate degrees in law. What I mean is a mandatory professional degree required for those who would like to practice law in Canada’s common law provinces as solicitors and barristers; and
So, after all these formalities…Welcome to law schools of the Great North – Canada.
J.D. or LL.M.?
Short answers would be (I can write a book comparing the overall advantages and disadvantages of J.D. and LL.M. degrees depending who is pursuing one of these degrees, but for the purposes of our audience, it would suffice to mention the following):
- Get a J.D. degree if you want to stay in Canada for a long time (say, 10-15 years) after graduation and practice law in Canada:
i. it is difficult to get into a J.D. program by competing against typical Canadian applicants as you will not be viewed as a non-Canadian for application purposes. Of course, there are certain categories for (a) mature students; (b) students with disabilities; and (c) other applicants with unique circumstances;
ii. as part of law school application you need to have at a minimum (1) an undergraduate degree in any field with excellent grades; and (2) LSAT score. However, to be competitive in your law school application, you need much more than these two items. Work experience, educational degrees or qualifications (graduate, PhD and etc.), voluntary activities that demonstrate your altruism, sincerity, hard-work and dedication, and a well-prepared application package will definitely distinguish you from thousands of other equally competitive applicants;
iii. because J.D. can be expensive for international (non-resident) students in Canada; practically, no scholarship or grants for international students taking on a J.D. program;
iv. it is a 3-year program, and you would need to complete a 10-month practice (called “Articling” in Canada) or Law Practice Program (a new program for those who cannot (or choose not to) get Articling positions at law firms which consists of 4-months training course and 4-months of work placement) and take 2 bar exams to become a Canadian lawyer;
v. if you are not a local student in Canada (permanent resident or Canadian citizen), then governmental funding would not be available for you. Please note that all Canadian universities and law schools are government-funded and are not private institutions. As such, taxpayers have (should have) better access to Canada’s federal or provincial funding. Yet another reason for this is that international students are most probably not “attached” to Canada and can always return back without paying back the loans or financial assistance received from Canadian government;
vi. I believe that because substantial financial resources and time will be spent to get a J.D. degree and become a lawyer in Canada, it is only worth getting a J.D. degree if you intend to spend substantial time actually practicing law in Canada in order to get your investment back. Otherwise, if you go back to Uzbekistan with a J.D. degree (for which you’ve spent a lot of money), it might be very challenging to recover your investment for a long time. Whereas if you practice law in Canada, your earning potential is very high and your potential clients will have the potential to pay for your services at a rate compatible to Canadian market rates.
2. Get an LL.M. degree (preferably with specific specialization, such as IP Law, Taxation, Banking and Finance Law) and return to your home country to practice law, because a Canadian LL.M. degree does not qualify you to take a provincial bar exam in Canada (or the US for that matter). You would need more things on top of an LL.M. to “cook” a lawyer.
i. almost all Canadian law schools offer LL.M. programs;
ii. a typical LL.M. is a 10-month program which consists of courses and a graduate thesis;
iii. LL.M. can give you a glimpse of common law legal system, which is a dominant system in international commercial and business transactions. As such, you may become a valuable asset for companies in your home country that deal with international/foreign clients;
iv. it is fairly easy for international students to get into a Canadian LL.M. program (other than those that are uniquely specialized, like McGill University’s LL.M. program in Air and Space Law, which is one of very few programs in the world). You need (1) an undergraduate degree in law; (2) high enough score in TOEFL or IELTS; (3) impressive resume and work experience; and (4) good research project as almost all LL.M. programs are research-oriented.
v. LL.M. program students can take some courses (not all) from the J.D. program; however, the grading of the LL.M. students will be done separately from the J.D. students. This will give you good exposure to J.D. program and, if you choose so and you are financially able to, you may be allowed to transfer to J.D. program after your LL.M., and study two more years to be eligible for Articling and then to take bar exams.
What is J.D., anyways? What’s so special about it? Why my Uzbek/Russian/Foreign diploma(s) (B.A., LL.B., LL.M., Ph.D. in law) is/are not enough to practice law in Canada? Why, oh Why?
I asked the same questions (in frustration) about 7-8 years ago when I arrived to Canada. Well now, having gone through full-fledged J.D. programs like typical Canadian students (in addition to our B.A. in law and LL.M. degrees) and practiced law in Canada, I have concluded that getting my J.D. degree was the only prudent, practical and right way to proceed. Let us explain why.
- J.D. is a specialized professional program that can be described as 3 LL.M. degrees in one with tons of stress, competition, hard training, persistence and lots of other emotional trial along this so-called Journey to Death and back. And, as you can imagine, when you come out alive, after having near-death experience, you feel great and appreciate your life in full.
- Leaving the amazingly enjoyable part of J.D. program aside, just by looking at the basics of a J.D. program you can see that it consists of:
i. 94 credit courses in 3 years;
ii. submitting several mid-term papers, major paper requirement, research projects and 24-hour take home exams;
iii. exams are mostly open book exams (you can use anything you want) and you can expect a bunch of them during one year of the J.D. program; And don’t expect that professors will know your name when evaluating your answers as all you put in your exam papers is your special number; and
iv. participation in oral advocacy courses, moot court competitions and summer practice/activities are highly encouraged if you want to have a competitive edge over your classmates when it comes to finding a job at prestigious national or international law firms;
3. In a J.D. program you learn nothing but subjects necessary to become a good lawyer. All courses, as you can see in the link provided above, are hard-core law stuff. Nothing related to world history, cultural enlightenment, works and random speeches of some person (other than fundamental court decisions written by a prominent judge that actually teach you something), foreign languages, philosophy, religion, or some blurb, which can be taken at other faculties or schools. Law school is about law.
4. You will have to read a lot of material in a short period of time. This is where your English language skills will come in handy. In one year of the J.D. program you will have to read at least 50 pages per one course class. Let’s say for the Contracts Law course, you will have to read, analyze and prepared case-briefs for 5-6 court decisions, roughly 20 pages per case and you have your 100 pages per one class of Contracts Law. Typically, in one semester you will take 5 courses and usually one course will have 2-3 classes per week. So, rest assured that in one year of the J.D. program you will read more than what you’ve read in 4-5 years of your undergraduate degree in Uzbekistan.
5. “You teach yourselves the law, but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush; you leave thinking like a lawyer.” I love this quote of Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. from The Paper Chase as it nails down everything about (J.D. program in) law school.
LL.M. – Let, Let Me, please. I am a lawyer!
Doesn’t fly in Canada. In Canada, LL.M. does not help. Having LL.M degrees from Harvard/Yale/Cambridge/Oxford/Standford/Columbia/Toronto/Ottawa/UWED…[put school names as desired] does not qualify you for the Articling program or LPP, or for the bar exams. If you choose not to take J.D. program and yet want to practice law in Canada, maximum you can hope for as a foreign-educated lawyer in Canada is going through the National Committee on Accreditation process:
- Apply for the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) for evaluation of all your previous education and qualifications in law;
- Get the decision of the NCA, which will be something like: “OK. You need to go to a Canadian law school for 2 years and take this and that courses!”
- Complete the NCA requirements at a Canadian law school by taking law courses by paying for those courses out of your own pocket, because mostly no funding is available for the NCA candidates.
- Complete an Articling or LPP; and
- Take bar exams.
Why is LL.M. treated so badly in Canada?
Here is why, according to our humble opinion:
- LL.M. program by nature is an additional (extra) program and serves better for those who want to specialize in one area in pursuit of academic curiosity. For instance, see University of Toronto’s course-intensive LL.M. program requirements:
i. Remain in residence for two academic terms (September to April),
ii. Complete 28 credits of course work [compared to 94 credits in J.D. program], including the mandatory graduate seminar, Alternative Approaches to Legal Scholarship (3 credits, fall term), and
iii. Fulfill a writing requirement by taking a course requiring one or more written assignments of at least 3,500 words (combined).
2. LL.M. program does not teach you how to become a lawyer, but rather prepares you well for a career in legal academia. If you want to teach law, as opposed to practicing law, then LL.M. is a way to proceed (without which you will not be admitted to Ph.D. in law program – a must have degree for law professors.
3. When it comes for law firms to choose a candidate for a position they prefer those who hold J.D. degrees over those who have LL.M. degrees. This is more true when a young lawyer has an LL.M. degree, which implies that the lawyer did not (or choose not to) practice law for extended period of time, and that the lawyer is more inclined to theoretical issues related to law. In day-to-day practice of law it does not really matter how the theory of law emerged or developed. What really matters is finding creative solutions to client’s legal problems/issues in an ethically acceptable way within the boundaries current law. That’s what practicing lawyers are paid for.
Why Canada? It’s very cold out there!
Canada is considered to be one of the most developed nations when it comes to liberal, affordable (as compared to our neighbor to the South) and social justice-oriented legal education. Law schools in Canada are not ranked. However, this doesn’t mean that applicants don’t want to get to one law school, rather than the other. For example, law schools in the Province of Ontario are most desirable among applicants. Also, please don’t ignore the fact that there are attempts to rank law schools and commercialize the “prestige” of certain law schools in Canada, similar to what’s going on in the US. I believe that all law school in Canada provide excellent education and prepare high-quality and ethical lawyers.
Also, Canadian schools tend to be more oriented towards social justice issues, such as (just to mention only 2 aspects):
- Affordable legal education: besides such governmental loans as Ontario Student Assistance Program for local Canadian applicants who are admitted to law schools, the schools provide some funding for your education. For example, the University of Toronto law school has a policy which makes legal education more affordable for those applicants who cannot afford high tuition fees of this school. It goes without saying that getting accepted to the UofT law school is a difficult task. Once you get in, money should not be an obstacle for your education.
- Social Justice and Pro-Bono Legal Service: Human rights, aboriginal law, environmental law, equality rights and international law are some of many subjects aimed to promote democracy, equality and social justice. Canadian law school are proud of providing legal education that highlights non-corporate aspects of legal practice. They encourage pro-bono services, active participation of legal profession in shaping public policies and so on.
What are problems do the law school graduates have in Canada?
There are three obvious problems:
- Lack of Articling Positions in Ontario – a highly desirable place for young lawyers to start their careers. There are too many law school graduates in the market and fewer Articling positions. This is why the LPP program was created to address this issue.
- Pretty much the same things as outlined in this sobering confession of a young American lawyer, but in a bit smaller scale;
- Work and life balance issues, which I tried to describe in my earlier article in Uzbek language.
 Quick note on the J.D. vs LL.M. comparison see http://www.lsac.org/llm/degree/jd-llm-difference
 J.D. degrees can be obtained in Canada at different law schools across the country. See http://lsuc.on.ca/licensingprocess.aspx?id=2147495260. Also, see below for explanation of what is a J.D. degree in a nutshell.
 It is not rare (but actually very common) that applicants for J.D. program have graduate degree(s), work experience and even Ph.D in English Literature with specialization on the Shakespearean Era or Master’s degree in Musicology. Hence, there is no age limitation and don’t be surprised if some of your classmates in the J.D. program are actually older than your parents.
 For more information about Law School Admission Test (LSAT) see http://www.lsac.org/jd/lsat/about-the-lsat/. As you take LSAT (which will challenge your English language to a maximum extent, law school applicants do not need to demonstrate their English language proficiency by taking TOEFL or IELTS.
 For more information on articling in Ontario see http://lsuc.on.ca/articling/.
 LPP – Law Practice Program is a new program and more information can be found here http://lsuc.on.ca/licensingprocess.aspx?id=2147497057.
 See http://www.llm-guide.com/canada.
 For example, University of Toronto’s LL.M. program students are not allowed to take courses from the first year of J.D. program. See http://www.law.utoronto.ca/academic-programs/graduate/llm/degree-requirements-coursework-intensive-llm-students.
 A must-see movie about such a journey is The Paper Chase (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070509/), a 1973 movie about Harvard’s J.D. program. But note that this movie is only about the first year of J.D. program.
 A typical J.D. program shown as divided year-by-year http://www.commonlaw.uottawa.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=8857&Itemid=111
 See for example, the University of Ottawa J.D. program requirements http://www.uottawa.ca/academic/info/regist/calendars/programs/1395.html
 For the University of Toronto LL.M. programs, see http://www.law.utoronto.ca/academic-programs/graduate/llm/degree-requirements-coursework-intensive-llm-students)
 See law schools rankings in the US. http://www.top-law-schools.com/rankings.html. That’s insane.
 See one attempt to rank law schools in Canada by Maclean’s magazine http://www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/2013-law-school-rankings/.
 See https://osap.gov.on.ca/OSAPPortal.