The UK Law School Advantage

2013-09-06 22:37:41

Why the UK?

What’s are the major advantages?

First and foremost is the need for the Ontario legal profession to access international education, International education: A key Driver to Canada’s Future Prosperity”. That’s the title of a recently released federal government consultation paper (www.international.gc.ca/education/report) and the message is intended to be delivered loud and clear to the broadest spectrum of aspiring Canadian professionals and their respective professions. The report exhorts Canadian students to become more pro-active in looking into international education as a way to open career doors to occupations that are increasingly intertwined with an international milieu in a global economic environment.

Why the UK? It’s the locus of some the world’s great law schools. International legal education in top tier UK law schools provides prospective legal professionals with an opportunity to participate in learning experiences under the tutelage of leading edge law professors with students who gravitate to these schools from all corners of the globe. Approximately one third of Canadian law professors have educational credentials from top tier U.K. law schools.

What’s are the major advantages? The two-year graduate LLB degree program is the key. An approved Canadian law degree consists of two years of university or university equivalent courses and three years of legal education. However, students with four – year honours degrees from Canadian universities are entitled to enroll in innovative two-year graduate LLB degree programs in a number of UK law schools.

Think of them as being like an Executive MBA. The law school recognizes that the student has obtained a university degree and has demonstrated general competency in research and writing at the professional level. The two-year graduate LLB degree program consists of all of the required ‘hard core’ law courses that constitute a qualifying law degree program. Options are limited to qualifying law courses and general legal education courses are eliminated.

A common refrain among Canadian law school students with university degrees is of being required to participate in the ‘dreaded dead third year.’ They’ve completed all of their core law courses by the end of second year and are keen to gain entry to the profession, but must spend an additional third year taking courses that,in many instances, touch upon topics that they’ve already covered in their undergraduate program of study.

In tacit recognition of the fact that the great majority of Canadian law schools students now have university degrees, domestic law schools, led by Ontario, are developing a growing number of “Combined Law Degrees”; two years of law and one year of another graduate program such as an MBA. And this is where the U.K. Law School Advantage comes into play. Canadian students who attend U.K. law schools can opt for the 2+1 (LLB/LLM) route. Upon completion of their two year graduate LLB they can enrol in an LLM program.

Prospective Canadian law school students must opt for a combined degree at the time of enrolment in the first year of their general LLB/JD program. Students in two-year graduate LLB programs in UK law schools have the advantage of not having to apply for a third year LLM program until completion of their LLB. The LLB becomes an opportunity to discover and/or explore an area of interest and make a truly informed decision and corresponding professional commitment. Moreover, they have the additional advantage of being able to choose the law school of their choice in enrolling in a graduate LLM degree program.

The added U.K. Law School Advantage is that at the LLM level top-tier law schools in the UK tend to have a global centre of excellence associated with a graduate LLM degree. For example, University of Sussex is a global research centre for the International Court of Criminal Justice in The Hague, and has a leading edge LLM in International Criminal Law. University of Kent has a campus at the EU headquarters in Brussels with an LLM in International Relations accompanied with a placement with an EU agency or NGO. City University is the successor to the famous “Inns of Court . Students can opt into the elite LLM Barrister program and participate in learning experiences under the tutelage of the best and brightest litigators in the world. Queen Mary University has been designated as the Centre for Commercial Law in the UK and has a variety of globally focused LLM programs in the corporate/commercial/financial services arenas along with its renowned arbitration programs. But it isn’t all about getting a global LLM. For example, Exeter and Kent are situate in medieval small towns and offer students LLM experiences in “neighborhood” law with intensive clinical programs. And the list goes on.

And last but certainly not least, the 2+1 (LLB/LLM) is equivalent to three years of legal education and minimizes accreditation requirements upon returning to Canada. More importantly, the Combined LLB/LLM provides them with both a law degree and legal specialist designation. It’s the legal specialist designation that’s the door opener.

The end result is that a Canadian student who opts for the LLB/LLM through the international education route in the U.K. brings back that much-needed international perspective that is the key to future Canadian prosperity in the global legal services market.