Go on exchange — it’s worth it!

When you are in the midst of first-year law, or applying for summer jobs, it can be hard to think about anything other than the task at hand. Applying for exchange, however, is an opportunity worth taking advantage of if it’s possible for you.

If your law school has not compiled all of the information you need, it may take time to research but it’s worth the effort. You can also ask people who have gone on exchange for help with the process.

The first thing you need to know is your school’s application deadline, which varies depending on the school. For example, the University of Ottawa has a two-stage process due in January and February; the University of Toronto requires its applications in January; and McGill University’s deadline is in November.

There are several advantages to exchanges, including the opportunity to live in a different country, experience new cultures, meet new people, and learn about a new legal system.

I studied at the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law for the first term of my third year. Not only did it give me insight into the Chinese and Hong Kong common law systems, but I also gained a sense of the culture more generally. This understanding can be integral when engaging in business relations with people and companies internationally, including within the legal field. I also had the opportunity to travel across Hong Kong Island, mainland China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia.

When you start researching, be sure to look into the semester timelines to avoid potential procedural complications. For example, the London School of Economics and Political Science requires a one-year commitment, often done during second year. This means missing most of the summer job recruitment. However, it’s still possible to catch the articling recruitment before third year upon your return.

It's also important to consider when the terms begin and end. Thankfully, the semesters at HKU line up well with those at uOttawa. By contrast, many semesters in Europe begin in October with final exams in January, which is when a lot of winter terms begin at Canadian law schools.

In addition, you should be cognizant of licensing applications for the bar exam. In Ontario, the application includes a notarized copy of your birth certificate, something worth preparing before you leave. Once you are on exchange, you will need to find somewhere to notarize your completed application, such as a Canadian consulate. I found it much easier to arrive with as much of the process completed in advance to avoid trying to figure it all out there.

You should also think about what courses you want (or need) to complete before graduating. Consider finishing your degree requirements beforehand to avoid risking an exchange course not being credited properly. It’s also worth taking a look at your electives so you can plan your timetable accordingly, leaving yourself free to take advantage of subjects available while on exchange.

Finances are also a critical component. Depending on where you go, it may not be as daunting as perceived. For example, living in a flat owned by the University of Hong Kong only costs about Cdn$200 per month and food can be inexpensive. While the flight to and from Asia may be expensive, flights and hostels around the continent can be cheap if you want to travel.

If only a short-term exchange is feasible and your school offers these, then you may want to consider that option as well. Students can study in places like Puerto Rico, Barbados, and Nunavut during their January term at uOttawa, for example.

Not only was it great to be in sunny and warm Puerto Rico last January — instead of a very chilly Ottawa — I enjoyed getting to know Puerto Rican law students and becoming far more familiar with their legal system.

Exchanges are not for everyone, and there are certainly some students who have obligations that prevent them from going on exchange. However, if taken advantage of, you will start your career with unique experience in a different culture and legal system; you will meet students from other law schools on exchange with you; and it will hopefully be a lot of fun as well!

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