So, you are considering a career in law in Canada. Fantastic! If you are curious about the requirements to practice law in Canada you should definitely know all of the degree requirements and options. That said, what are the types of law degrees in Canada?
In Canada, law students obtain either an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) or a JD (Juris Doctorate). The name of the degree depends on the specific law school they attend, and what that school has chosen to call this law degree. Both the LLB and JD are considered undergraduate degrees, even though they both also require graduation from a traditional 4-year undergraduate college for admission. Many schools offer joint programs where students can earn a law degree alongside a graduate degree in a different program.
Additionally, Canadian students can earn an LLM, or a Master of Laws degree. Students who enter an LLM program must have already completed their LLB or JD program, and are often practicing lawyers who are returning for further education.
What Are the Differences Between the LLB, JD, and LLM Degrees?
The LLB and JD degrees are the same degrees with different names. Many Canadian schools have begun moving away from the LLB to the more broadly recognized JD, even though the degrees are the same. Recipients of JD degrees often have better employment opportunities and higher pay, especially if they are applying to jobs outside of Canada.
The LLM is graduate degree that’s only available to lawyers who have already completed the LLB or JD. LLM degrees focus on a specific subject, such as international tax law or intellectual property. Many LLM students are experienced lawyers who wish to further their education in a specific field. LLM programs are also a popular choice for lawyers who earned their law degree outside of the US or Canada, as this makes them eligible to sit for the Bar Exam.
What Are the Two Systems of Law in Canada?
Canada has a rich history that is primarily influenced by two nations: the United Kingdom and France. As a result, the country has two different systems of law. The Common Law is the primary system and rules over all Canadian provinces except for Quebec. Common Law is from the British system. Quebec is regulated by Civil Law, which comes from the French system of law.
Additionally, there is a section of the legal system that focuses on the relationship between the Aboriginal people of Canada and the Canadian government. Common areas of regulation for Aboriginal law are treaty negotiations, land rights, fishing and wildlife rights, and natural resources harvesting rights. Residential and school abuse are also covered under Aboriginal law. Aboriginal law can be quite complex as it intersects with Common Law and Civil Law.
What Are Joint Law Degrees?
Many universities allow students to work towards a law degree at the same time they are working towards a separate graduate degree. Students must be fully admitted into both programs in order to participate. The graduate degree programs may have completely separate admission requirements that include specific undergraduate degrees, coursework, or the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).
Students who are looking for a joint degree program are usually planning on practicing law in a very specific subject area. They already know what niche area outside the law they are interested in, and are seeking a program where they can learn how to combine their knowledge of the law with that special interest.
There are no limits to the number of degree combinations that a university can have, but most schools have similar joint degree programs. These are most commonly Master’s degree programs, but there are some joint Doctor of Philosophy programs as well.
Common joint programs include the LLB/JD and:
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master of Public Administration (MPA)
- Master of Library and Information Services (MLS)
- Master of Health Administration (MHA)
- Master of Public Policy (MPP)
- Master of Social Work (MSW)
- Master of Environmental Studies (MES)
- Master of Arts (MA) in International Relations
- Master of Arts (MA) in Economics
- Master of Arts (MA) in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Political Science
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Economics
How Do You Become Fully Licensed to Practice Law in Canada?
Earning a law degree is only one part of becoming a licensed lawyer. Overall, there are seven steps that hopeful lawyers must take before they become fully licensed to practice law in Canada. The steps are the same regardless of whether a student is applying to an LLB or a JD program. These steps are very similar, although not identical, to the steps that prospective lawyers must follow to practice law in the United States.
Step 1: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree
Although the LLB or JD are both technically undergraduate degrees, applicants still must have a traditional four-year undergraduate degree before entering law school. Students typically apply to law school in their final year of undergraduate education and must have been granted that degree before the first day of law school classes.
There are no requirements on what major or minor an applicant has as long as they have formally received a degree. Some applicants will major in a field related to the law while earning their undergraduate degree, such as criminology.
Step 2: Take the Law School Admission Test
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is the entrance exam for all law schools in Canada, as well as the United States. Law schools that are based in Quebec do not require the LSAT, but it’s still recommended as a part of the law school admission package. The LSAT has three distinct sections: reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. LSAT scores are reported directly to any schools the student has applied to, as well as to the student themself.
Step 3: Select Law Schools
Students must choose which law schools in Canada they wish to apply to. They should always check to make sure the schools they are applying to are fully accredited and in good standing with the governing bodies.
Students should consider several factors in selecting a school including location, tuition costs, school philosophy, number of students, and post-graduation employment rates. Students should also determine if they want to study under the Civil Law system in Quebec, or the Common Law system throughout the rest of Canada.
Step 4: Apply to Law Schools
Students can apply to as many different law schools as they wish. Law schools typically have an application fee, which may be a limiting factor when considering how many schools to apply to. If a student decides to apply to a law school after they’ve already taken the LSAT they can still have their scores reported to the new schools.
Step 5: Attend and Graduate From Law School
Both the LLB and the JD degrees take three years to complete. Courses during the first year will cover broad topics, such as property law, criminal law, and contracts law. Courses during the second and third years will continue to cover these topics, but also allow room for students to choose elective courses on subjects that are interesting to them. Students will also take courses that help teach them how to practice the law ethically and professionally.
In addition to coursework, students will have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities such as writing for the law review journal, working at a pro bono law program (under supervision), or participating in mock trials. They also might have internships with law firms and judges to give them a taste of what day-to-day law practice is like.
Step 6: Prepare for the Bar Exam and Articling
Students still have work to do even after they’ve received their LLB or JD degree before they can officially practice the law. First, they must complete a Bar Admissions Course that is based on the province where they plan to take the Bar Exam. This course can be completed either online or in person.
They also have to complete an “article,” which is a 9-12 month internship under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney. Articling is a part of the formal legal education system and is intended to help students better understand what it means to be a practicing lawyer, as well as expose them to the various types of law they could practice.
Step 7: Pass the Bar Exam
The final step to becoming a licensed lawyer in Canada is to take and pass the Bar Exam. Bar Exams are specific to each individual province, and successful candidates will be admitted to the Society of Law for that province. All Canadian provinces have reciprocity with one another, so lawyers who have successfully passed the Bar Exam in one province can practice law in any other Canadian province, including Quebec. Most fully barred Canadian lawyers also have reciprocity with some, but not all, states in the US. Lawyers who are barred in Quebec only have reciprocity with a few states.