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Academic reputation key in students’ law school choices

|Written By Heather Gardiner
Academic reputation key in students’ law school choices

A law school’s academic reputation had the greatest influence on a student’s decision to go there, says a recent report from the Law Society of Upper Canada.

In its June 27 report to Convocation, the LSUC’s equity and aboriginal issues committee released the results of its career choices study, which — among other statistics — revealed 63 per cent of respondents said academic reputation was the No. 1 factor in deciding which law school to attend.

Of those who were contacted, 972 lawyers called to the bar in 2010, 2011, and 2012 responded. The purpose of the survey was to find out about new lawyers’ experiences from the beginning of law school to the start of their practice.

When asked about their law school preference, 21 per cent chose the University of Toronto Faculty of Law as their first choice and 18 per cent chose Osgoode Hall Law School.

Following close behind were the University of Ottawa common law section (10 per cent), Western University’s Faculty of Law (nine per cent), and Queen’s University Faculty of Law (eight per cent).

Schools outside Ontario got the first-choice nod from 16 per cent of respondents, with eight per cent of students choosing the McGill University Faculty of Law as their first choice, followed by Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law at four per cent, and the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law and the University of Victoria Faculty of Law both at two per cent.

The reasons students picked their top schools included:

•    law school’s location where student wanted to work (40 per cent)

•    affordability of a school’s location (34 per cent)

•    curriculum strongly linked to areas student wanted to study or practise (31 per cent)

•    tuition costs (26 per cent)

•    availability of family support (23 per cent)

Lindsay Scott, an associate at Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP who was called to the Ontario bar in 2011, says she chose the University of Ottawa as her first choice because of its location, its French component, and its social justice courses.

She explains: “Location and the fact that students would have access to really interesting learning opportunities outside of the law school, so being able to go to the Supreme Court [of Canada], opportunities within government, things like that that you wouldn’t get elsewhere; I liked the fact that courses were taught in French and French is spoken a lot in Ottawa; and its social justice courses.”

On an open-ended basis, students identified these key factors for choosing where to article:

•    practice areas offered (28 per cent)

•    having summered at the firm and being hired back (23 per cent)

•    preferred location (20 per cent)

•    perceived prestige/reputation (18 per cent)

For Scott, she says she knew early on that she wanted to work for a boutique law firm, so the choice was easy.

“I wanted to work on top-shelf, A-level cases but ideally in a smaller, more collegial environment than a national firm,” she tells 4Students.

She also wanted to do litigation work. “There’s a lot more opportunity earlier for associates in litigation in smaller firms,” she says.

Location played a big factor as well as she had her heart set on working in the city so she only applied to Toronto firms in the on-campus interview process in her second year of law school.

On a closed-ended basis, students were also asked which factors were most influential on their articling choice.

They selected:

•    practice areas offered by the firm (54 per cent)

•    student preferred city/town in which to article (45 per cent)

•    perceived prestige of the firm (44 per cent)

•    supportive firm environment (40 per cent)

•    student had summered at the firm and was hired back (40 per cent)

Scott cited a supportive firm environment as one of the reasons she chose Paliare because she really liked the people she met during the on-campus interviews.

Also of interest are the practice areas most sought-after by articling students. According to the study, these three areas of law were most commonly chosen:

•    corporate commercial (37 per cent)

•    civil litigation, plaintiff (28 per cent)

•    civil litigation, defendant (27 per cent)

One area where students did not gain the experience they sought was human rights/social justice law with 16 per cent of students saying this was an area of law they wished they had gained experience in during articling and only nine per cent actually doing so.

Also, it should come as no surprise that the single greatest preference for where to article was at a large, private law firm in Toronto. In terms of where students actually got their training, 25 per cent articled at a large private law firm in Toronto, 15 per cent articled at a large private law firm outside Toronto, 14 per cent articled at a medium-sized, private firm in Toronto, 13 per cent articled at a government or public agency, and six per cent articled at a small, private law firm in Toronto.

When asked if they faced significant challenges in securing an articling position, approximately three-quarters of students said no, which makes sense given the number of unplaced articling students in 2012 was 15 per cent. {nomultithumb}

For more results from the report go to Law Times article 'New lawyers signal reduced expectations in sluggish economy'.

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