The University of Houston recently held a branding ceremony at the city’s annual Livestock Show and Rodeo — only this one didn’t involve cows.
This one involved the University of Houston Law Center and the University of Calgary Faculty of Law branding their signatures on an agreement establishing a joint international energy lawyers program.
Located in two of North America’s major energy centres, the law deans say it makes sense for the two schools to work together. University of Houston law dean Raymond Nimmer says collaboration with the University of Calgary just seemed like “a natural fit.”
Starting in September, Canadian and American law students will be able to earn a dual JD degree in four years instead of the usual six through this new program. Students will spend two years at each school and be equipped to apply to both the Canadian and American bars upon graduation.
Although the program is targeted at students with an interest in energy law, it’s open to all law students who want to obtain a dual degree.
“I don’t think you can practise law in the modern world in areas that are sophisticated without understanding law out of other countries,” says Nimmer. “[Especially in] energy and environmental [law], you can’t be a good lawyer without understanding other countries’ laws.”
University of Calgary law dean Ian Holloway suggests it’s time for Canadian lawyers to become more internationally connected.
“The world is an increasingly shrinking place and I’m not sure that the Canadian legal profession has embraced that with as much gusto as it could,” he says.
“If we’re going to be competitive in the future — if we look at the changing and evolving demand for legal services — then Canadian lawyers just have to become much more outwardly focused, and having an American legal education in addition to a Canadian one, it’s one way of doing that,” he adds.
Nimmer says the program was also derived from the state of the economy, and the fact that more energy and environmental lawyers are needed in both countries.
“What happens is, I believe, that law and lawyer practice tend to go together with the way the economy is going and right now energy is one of the most important fields.”
Holloway adds: “The fact is that the Canadian and American economies are so heavily intertwined that many Canadian clients now have needs that transcend the borders and that’s the same too in the United States. Given that our clients have needs that transcend the borders, then it seems to me to make sense for law schools to . . . work together more closely than we have been.”
He says they plan to incorporate practical aspects in the program through summer placements at energy companies, oil and gas companies, and law firms. Right now, they estimate five to 10 students from each school will be enrolled in the program each year.
One obstacle the schools had to address was the cost difference in tuition for local and international students. In order to make the program more affordable, Houston has decided to charge Calgary students the in-state full-time student rate; they will not have to pay international fees.