Should There Be Parttime Law School in Canada?

Like Darryl Mountain in today’s Slaw.ca column, I have been thinking about law school lately. Or rather, I have been reminded about past thoughts on this topic. Whether law school should be changed or not is a current hot topic in the U.S. In addition to the New York Times article that Darryl points to, The National Law Journal has also just published the article What is Law School For, Anyway? by Karen Sloan about law schools not keeping up with what is needed in the profession.

One thing I believe the U.S. law school system has gotten right, however, has been allowing for parttime studies leading up to a law degree. It has allowed law degrees to be more available to students of a wider range of backgrounds, and allowed some to obtain the law degree to support work and previous education for other purposes besides practising or teaching the law.

It has long irked me that Canadian law schools are full-time study only (somebody please correct me if I am wrong). In the U.S., because law school is available on a parttime basis, roughly half of law librarians have both a law and a librarian degree (this is a guesstimate on my part, based on past discussions). In Canada the number is much smaller. I would be surprised if we could find more than 20 people across the country with both degrees.

Typically those with dual degrees have completed the law degree first, and then looked for alternatives to practice, thereafter seeking out library school. There are a few who have taken the dual degree in a program for that purpose. I am aware of dual degree programs at Dalhousie University and the University of Toronto; again, I would be interested if there are other dual degree programs in Canada. Even more rare, the odd librarian has gone back to school for law. But typically those people go into practice.

For a Canadian law librarian who would like to pursue legal studies, it means stopping work for 3 years, not only paying for law school but also potentially giving up an income for those years. It is not something that most would be willing to do. As a result, we have few with dual degrees.

Demand for law librarians in Canada, however, rises over time. Many law schools across the country, for example, require the dual degree for their library reference and management staff. Those with dual degrees are also desirable in some law firms for research lawyer and knowledge management positions. Supply is not up to the demand, so as a result those from outside Canada are found to fill the positions. This in itself is not a problem for individual positions, but what happens when we get to the point where most senior positions at our Canadian law school libraries are not staffed by Canadians? How does that affect service, instruction for law students, and the general philosophy of law school libraries?

Yes, you are correct if you pick this up as a personal rant. I have long felt that, had law school been available on a parttime basis in Canada as it is for my colleagues in the U.S., I would have gradually worked toward and completed a law degree to supplement my three other university degrees. I completed my library degree on a parttime basis while working fulltime in a law firm library. Starting a law degree 18 years ago would have been of great interest to me. I think about how different my career would have been. But there is no way I could have afforded to put my work life aside to complete a law degree fulltime.

If there is demand for the dual degrees, why is no one in the Canadian system doing anything to facilitate this? Why do law school libraries not hire those with library degrees who are willing to pursue a law degree while working? Is there another option?

Retweet information »

Comments

  1. Connie, check out the OLSAS information at http://www.osgoode.yorku.ca/sites/default/files/attachments/b_olsas_e.pdf. You’ll see that a number of Ontario law schools have half time or “extended time” programs for the LLB or JD. These may not be as flexible as you’d like but they’re something. As well, you might consider applying for the LLM program as a non-lawyer; people who have academic or professional qualifications may qualify for graduate work in law.

  2. Dave: That is excellent, thank you!

    Are there other law schools offering parttime?

  3. Simon:

    Thank you. It looks like most are half-time. I would suspect that most working full-time would only be able to take one or two courses at a time, so three courses per semester would be challenging.

    Thank you for pointing out the LLM program. I did look at that as an alternative in later years.

    As for me personally, I am not going to start a law degree at this point in my career. I would have loved having this background, however, when I was a reference librarian 15 years ago.

  4. All law societies in Canada will recognize a part-time LLB/JD for admission into their pre-call training programs.THis was affirmed by the recent TASK FORCE ON THE CANADIAN COMMON LAW DEGREE , FINAL REPORT
    October 2009 at http://www.flsc.ca/_documents/Common-Law-Degree-Report-C(1).pdf
    At p 40 of the Report it states: ‘…the Task Force recommends that the length of the course requirements be expressed as three years or the equivalent in course credits.’
    There is no requirement that this be done on a full time basis.

    Here in Nova Scotia, we have had many articled clerks who completed their law degrees on a part-time basis. They have often had full time jobs, family responsiobilities or other obligations that prevented full time law school attendance.
    As an aside most law societies also allow articling to be done on a part-time basis as well, for all of the same reasons.

  5. Darrel: Excellent! Thank you for the additional background.

    I hope some of my law library colleagues will consider this.

  6. I don’t agree with your statement that “Many law schools across the country, for example, require the dual degree for their library reference and management staff.” Most actually don’t require both degrees. It may be preferred that a librarian have a law degree, but it is not required in most cases. I also don’t agree when you say that since there aren’t as many people in Canada with both degrees that “those from outside Canada are found to fill the positions.” I can think of only one time in the last few years when a non-Canadian trained law librarian was recruited to fill a position.

    I agree that it may head towards people needing both degrees, but we certainly aren’t there yet. In any event, universities would have to be prepared to pay more for a person with both degrees and in this economic environment when universities are struggling to deal with less and less money, including law schools, they often balk at something that will cost them more. In fact, I would argue that as time goes on, universities will be hiring less and less law librarians (in fact librarians of any sort) because they cost so much more than library technicians or assistants. I believe universities will be downloading more duties to the paraprofessionals so that there is less need for librarians. I’ve already seen it happen. I’ve also seen centralization happen so that law libraries lose their individual autonomy; this again leads to less jobs and less need for law librarians.

  7. U of Ottawa offers part-time law studies but recommends that the first year be completed full-time.

  8. I am currently a part time law student at the University of Manitoba. “Half-time” students may take between four to six years to finish their JD. Our faculty reserves five seats every year for half-time students.

    I am very grateful for this provision, as it has allowed me to stay in my law-related profession while completing my degree and fulfilling a life-long dream.

  9. The University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law also offers a half-time program.

  10. Dominique Lapierre

    Univerté Laval (Québec)’s Faculty of Law offers part-time law studies for the law librarians. Currently I am fullfilling my degree working fulltime. Other arrangements can possibly be done for other categories of staff.

  11. UQAM allows up to 6 years to complete the credits http://www.programmes.uqam.ca/7308#REGPART

  12. Hi Connie, I have both degrees. I didn’t realize we were in such demand! I would agree though that unless organizations are willing to pay for both degrees (namely the law degree) it would take an unusual set of circumstances to prompt me to move from my current position on the law end of the spectrum.

  13. Hi Connie,

    The Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie also offers a part-time JD option, in addition to part-time graduate study options.

    http://law.dal.ca/Prospective_Students/Bachelor_of_Laws_%28J.D.%29/

  14. Thank you, everyone, for showing how wrong I was about parttime program availability. Thank you for speaking up–I love it! I am delighted to see things have changed since I was working as a law librarian.

    This blog post also got a reaction from people off Slaw, and what I heard from fellow law librarians:

    - Some have been interested in pursuing the law degree, but were not aware parttime was available. So, your comments have helped to dispel that incorrect belief.

    - Others had looked into the parttime degrees, but found the commitment too high (I’m guessing it is the time commitment) for someone working in a senior law library role wishing to pursue the law degree as a way to advance his/her career.

    This anecdotal evidence makes me wonder about a few things:
    - Why has word about parttime law programs not made its way to the law librarian community?
    - Is there more that can be done in helping those who would like the second (law) degree to achieve that goal? And perhaps start and achieve it earlier in their career?
    - There is no clear career path for a law librarian who wants to continue in a leadership role but who does not have the dual degrees. Once you have become a library manager for a large organization, where is there to move? A slightly bigger organization with more library staff? Or do you, like me, make a fundamental shift away from management?

    Some individual responses–

    Sue, I think we are looking at the same thing and one of us is seeing the glass half full and the other the glass half empty (I’m not sure which is which–likely I am seeing it half empty). I have seen more than one position filled from outside Canada despite there being good candidates with the one (library) degree.

    H Innes, thank you for commenting. Yes, if you would be willing to take a drop in pay there is lots of potential for you! I am being snide, of course. That is the reason why the few librarians who pursue a law degree often go into practice rather than going back to librarianship; the economics just don’t make sense.

  15. What about the notion of certification? What if CALL or SLA or some other organization would establish some education and experience minimums and equivalencies that would get you a “certificate” in law librarianship. That could temper the notion that a law degree is required to advance in your career but distinguish someone who has bothered to pursue the certification in their chosen area from generalists. Not sure what would be involved in that (probably a lot of work) – thinking of the Canadian Society for Training and Development as an example.

  16. I think the perception is still that if you go to law school you intend to practise law. And I can fully understand the economics of choosing that path, because what is the alternative? To obtain a law degree to “support work and previous education for other purposes besides practising or teaching the law” is a very expensive proposition and one that does not necessarily pay off.

    My concern is a disturbing trend in many positions, apparently including law librarians, that don’t require a law degree, but will prefer one without any corresponding increase in the salary paid out for the position. There are many government jobs posted these days (quasi-adjudicative, policy, investigatory) that ‘prefer’ a law degree, but rarely compensate for the level of education and expertise that the degree brings to the position. Bottom line is that a law degree may get you the job, but it won’t get you an increase in pay for the position, because it’s only a ‘preference’ after all.

  17. “My concern is a disturbing trend in many positions, apparently including law librarians, that don’t require a law degree, but will prefer one without any corresponding increase in the salary paid out for the position.”

    Not just ‘prefer’ a law degree, but require “a bachelors degree, preferably in law”. To my mind, that means a BA with a major in undergraduate law. To the HR world, it means an LLB. These are hardly the same thing.

  18. I agree that those hired with both degrees–especially if it is a requirement–should be compensated for having that level of education.

    As for certification, that is a tough thing to implement. Unless we take something like the Canadian Association of Law Libraries’ New Law Librarians Institute and turn it into a certification program. But creating a certification program is a tricky thing–is attendance enough? Will it need exams? A practical/practicum experience element?

  19. I know first hand about this. I work in a government ministry that is about equallyfinance and legal. As a senior professional on the financial side with a graduate degree and eight professional designations I wanted to bone up on my law background. So I went in search for an LLM that would be catered to the professional or executive, such as an Executive MBA. Couldn’t find one in Canada so approached University College of London and am now at the start of an LLM through their international programme. Course work is all text and digital based but I write the same time as the campus based students and we all are marked at the same level. I will graduate with the same University of London LLM.

  20. When I applied to law school in 1993 there were very few Canadian Law schools who didn’t have a half-time program. Although at that time permission may have been limitted to health reasons, disabilty, or family responsibilty. I attended the University of Victoria, which had a combined public administration and law degree at the time. UBC and the University of Saskatchewan also had part-time programs.

    I agree these degrees should be more flexible in how you attend, and also in requirements for full-time attendance during the undergraduate program from which you apply. Every person’s circumstance is different. Pretending everyone is the same creates artificial barriers for access to education and often makes it more difficult for the economically disadvantaged, the disabled and other minorities to achieve their potential.

  21. Does anyone know of a part time law degree you can take via distant education/correspondance/online? I work full time and would like a law degree on my own time…wishful thinking?