Ever dreamed about practicing law?
Are you passionate about social justice? Do you like helping people through their difficulties? Do you have good people skills? Are you interested in reading, writing, and do you have a strong attention to detail? Do you excel at debate? If so, perhaps you should consider a career in law.
What do lawyers do?
Lawyers are professionals who practice law. They assist people and corporations with legal matters, and act as officers in the justice system. In order to practice, a lawyer must be certified, or “called to a bar”, by a relevant jurisdictional authority. In Ontario, for example, lawyers are accredited by the Law Society of Upper Canada. Before that, a lawyer must obtain a legal qualification, such as a Juris Doctor (JD), a Bachelor of Law (LL.B), or a Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L). Canada has two legal systems, common law (which is used in most of the provinces) and civil law (used only in Quebec), which require different training.
Great, so how do I prepare for this career?
Getting Into a Canadian Law School
Preparing for a legal career begins in high school. You will need to take university-level credits in your final two years, and get accepted into a reputable undergraduate program. Choose a course of study that interests you because any university degree is good preparation for law school. However, be sure to choose a program in which you can excel. To be accepted into a Canadian law school, typically you will need an A- average, which translates into a 3.7 CGPA. Bear this in mind from the moment you matriculate, because many schools consider the cumulative grade point average, which includes all courses taken throughout your studies. Formerly, schools looked at ‘best two’ or ‘last two’ (commonly abbreviated as B2 and L2), however, due to the level of competition the practice has been largely abandoned. Officially, you only need three full years of an undergraduate program to apply to law school. In practice, however, nearly all successful applicants have a four year honours degree.
While in your undergraduate program, take advantage of opportunities available in extra-curricular clubs and societies. In addition to a strong academic background, you will need a handful of activities that demonstrate your interpersonal skills, leadership abilities and community involvement. Many law schools are switching to a ‘holistic’ approach to evaluating applicants because of the intense level of competition. At Osgoode Hall Law School and the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, for example, less than 1 in 10 applicants are able to secure a spot, so you will need extra-curricular involvement to stand out.
In order to gain admission, you will also need to write the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The LSAT is administered four times per year, and can be taken in a number of test centres across Canada. It is recommended that you take the LSAT in the summer after your third year if you intend to file an application the following fall. Preparation is crucial, and many successful test writers take courses in writing the LSAT in addition to using practice books. You can take the LSAT up to three times in a two year period, and most schools only consider your highest score for admission. To be competitive, you must score in the 80th percentile, which is typically 160 out of 180. To gain admission to the most selective schools, typically a score of 165 is required.
Applying to law school in Ontario is a time and labour intensive process. In Ontario, the application system opens in late August, and applications are due in early November. You will need two or three letters of reference from professors, so be sure to form robust academic relationships throughout your time in school. You will also be required to submit personal essays in which you articulate your interest in a legal career.
If you are unsuccessful the first time you apply, fret not. Many law school candidates are rejected the first time they apply due to the level of competition, and gain entry the second or third time they try. If you are unable to secure a spot in a Canadian law school after several attempts, you should consider attending another university in Australia or the United Kingdom, which have similar common law based justice systems. Typically, they have more relaxed academic standards, and often they do not require the LSAT for admission. Some students are able to transfer out of the first year of a foreign program into a Canadian program due to the level of attrition after first year
Once You’re In Law School
The standard law degree is three years. In your first year of law school, you may take a standard suite of courses covering Administrative Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Torts, Property Law and Contract Law. In subsequent years, you will be able to take more elective courses, and specialize in one area of interest such as tax law, commercial law, or international law. During the summer, many law students seek legal experience through internships and summer associate positions. Securing a summer placement is essential if you want to work in a firm subsequent to your degree.
Articling/Clerking & Bar
Each province and territory has its own requirements for qualifying as a lawyer. In Ontario, for example, you will need to write a bar exam and secure an articling position in order to qualify and practice. Visit the following links for more information about different qualification requirements:
- Law Society of British Columbia
- Law Society of Alberta
- Law Society of Saskatchewan
- Law Society of Manitoba
- Law Society of Upper Canada
- Barreau du Québec
- Chambre des notaires du Québec
- Law Society of New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society
- Law Society of Prince Edward Island
- Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador
- Law Society of Yukon
- Law Society of the Northwest Territories
- Law Society of Nunavut