While the debate between JD versus LLB looms on in the background, the University of Alberta is offering law students in western Canada a way to get the best of both worlds — with American accreditation, to boot.
“Students can start next September, if they wish,” says David Percy, dean of the University of Alberta Faculty of Law. “The normal provision is that the student can elect to join the program either at the time of admission, or in the first year of law school."
He adds that current second-year students will still be given the chance to take advantage of this new initiative, at least for the first year of the program’s existence.
“A second year student at the U of A could start their third year of legal education and their first year of Colorado late next August.”
Percy explains how the process will work: “An Alberta student would do year one and two at the U of A, year three at Colorado, and at that point would receive at U of A law degree. And then, after completion of year four in Colorado, they will receive a Colorado JD degree.”
While it’s possible for students to break into the market south of the border without an American JD, it can be a bit more complicated. The details vary state by state, but generally the American Bar Association requires an ABA certified degree. Canadian law schools are not ABA approved, so applicants first have to go through the process of getting an equivalency approval to register for the exam.
The new program means a simpler process in a relatively short period of time.
Percy explains the idea is for students to write an American bar exam after graduating from their fourth year, and then be able to return to Canada for articles beginning in September.
“So, it’s not only possible to get two degrees in four years, but you can get an absolute dual qualification in both systems in five years,” he says.
Percy mentions several high-profile cases and scenarios that give rise to the desire for cross-border practice qualifications, including BSE, softwood lumber disputes, and energy trade. The oil and gas sector also has its share of interesting cross-border situations, so the program should give plenty of opportunities, “especially for students who plan to practise in Alberta, with its heavy reliance on north-south trade,” says Percy.
The dean says he’s convinced the qualifications will make students more attractive in the competitive job market.
“So many issues arise in day to day practice in Alberta with major cross-border implications that I’m certain it would make them more attractive. Some energy companies in Calgary, for example, have American lawyers on staff in Calgary for that reason.”
The universities have given a few of their reasons for why they chose to partner with each other. Although the Boulder campus is about 2,000 kilometers away, they say they share similar programs, size, and academic calibre. Percy also noted that the admission standards for the two faculties are “virtually identical.”
U of A isn’t the first law school in the country to come up with the idea. The University of Windsor offers a joint program with the University of Detroit Mercy. Osgoode Hall Law School gives students the chance to partner with New York University School of Law. But U of A will be the first western law school to offer students the choice.
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