Canada has an intricate legal system, a product of its British and French heritage. Just as Louisiana retains its French civil law system amidst a sea of common law jurisdictions in the U.S., Quebec also is the only civil law jurisdiction in Canada, although on a much larger scale. The province is home to nearly a quarter of Canada's population and unlike Louisiana, it retains French as its official language.
In spite of these internal tensions, Canada's federal system operates under a system of bijuralism that seeks to harmonize these jurisdictions at the federal level. Canada also mandates bilingualism in the legal systems, but there are still inevitable legal issues that arise with a legal system that incorporates multiple languages. One Canadian Supreme Court Justice has even suggested that the system ultimately requires bilingualism among its practitioners.
With its unique legal system, Canada has interesting fields of practice for budding lawyers and, in many cases, yields greater opportunities compared to the U.S. Below, you'll find information and resources to learn more about law schools in Canada.
Choosing Your Own Adventure
The first step when choosing a law school in Canada is a big one -- deciding whether to study under the common law or civil law systems operating in Canada. The primary difference between the two is the doctrine of stare decisis, as common law jurisdictions recognize court decisions as binding precedents that supplement statutory law. Civil law jurisdictions, on the other hand, primarily rely on codified laws and don't recognize the precedential authority of judicial decisions.
With the exception of those in Quebec, most Canadian law schools offer a common law education. However, some schools offer combined degrees in civil law and common law, such as:
- Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario)
- Osgoode Hall Law School (Toronto, Ontario)
- University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law (Ottawa, Ontario)
- McGill University, Faculty of Law (Montreal, Quebec)
- Western University (London, Ontario)
There are also a handful of Canadian law schools that have partnered with U.S. law schools to offer joint Canadian-U.S. law degrees.
As you're weighing the pros and cons of different law schools in Canada, it might help to review periodic report cards for various law schools, which appraise everything from curriculum and testing to the quality of faculty and student colleagues. Canada also has law school rankings similar to those published on U.S. law schools by U.S. News and World Report.
Getting Into Law Schools in Canada
In addition to pre-law educational requirements, law schools in Canada may also have bilingual requirements. Some also require completion of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which is administered by the same organization that administers the test in the U.S.
For a bigger picture view of the process from getting into law school to getting out, the University of Toronto provides a helpful guide showing the steps along the way. Ultimately when you do get out of law school you'll have to be admitted to a Law Society in order to practice law. These societies operate like state bars in the U.S. as there is one for each province and they set standards for admission, regulate member conduct, and interface with the greater public.
Why Consider Law Schools in Canada?
As of 2014, there were just over 125,000 members in all of Canada's Law Societies, only about 99,500 of whom were actually practicing law. In other words, there have been fewer attorneys practicing law in all of Canada than practice in California, which has over 187,000 practicing attorneys. What does this mean for you if you're considering law schools in Canada? Simply put, jobs.
Canada's more restricted pool of graduates and practitioners provides some stability in its job market. This is because, compared to the U.S., with over 200 law schools, there are only around 20 in Canada, many of which have very competitive admissions processes.
Another factor to consider is that many law schools in Canada work collaboratively. Some even have reciprocity agreements allowing outside students to utilize career services offices. Also, while some Canadian law schools have tuition rates comparable to those in the U.S., if you're a Canadian resident, you could be paying a much more reasonable rate, especially at law schools like McGill University.
Law Schools in Canada: Next Steps
Whether you live in Canada or another country, there are definitely reasons to consider law schools in Canada. As you get ready for law school and what lies ahead, it's important to stay informed as you build a successful legal career. Stay connected with the attorneys at FindLaw for Law Students for continued help along the way.