Globe & Mail Article on JD vs LLB

There’s an article in today’s Globe & Mail on the continued JD-vs-LLB debate, and an email list exchange among Queens alumni gone awry on the subject. This post is not about the article directly, as I’m sure many of Slaw’s readers have already read plenty on the subject. But rather, I have a few questions about statements made within the article. And specifically this passage:

“Canadian law graduates typically spend the same seven years in school before they are granted an LLB but, because of its commonwealth roots, the degree is often confused by international employers with the British LLB. Unlike in Canada, British law graduates are not required to earn an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite, and can head straight to law studies from high school. As a result, global law firms typically pay law grads with JDs substantially more than Canadians packing LLBs.”

My understanding has always been that Canadian students could get into law school after 2-3 years of undergraduate study, depending on the program, and Quebec being the exception. But that because of competition, almost no one did so without a degree. Is this correct? And if so, have law schools in other commonwealth countries not seen competition drive up the entry requirements as well?

It is also my understanding that the Canadian LLB is very well regarded with recruiting international firms. And the number of US and UK firms recruiting in Canadian law schools would seem to support that. Does anyone else have a different opinion? because to me, this looks to be inaccurate as well.


  1. I don’t have the stats, Steven, but you’re right that few students get into Canadian law schools now without a bachelor’s degree. But the whole “oops, I thought you were a pimply English juvenile!” supposed confusion is silly: you apply for a job: you put in your resume: it contains, prominently feature, your degrees: employer notes. Sounds to me like someone’s made a tinny drum to beat.

  2. Steven,

    I just finished reading the Globe article, the link to which Dean Flanagan circulated to the whole law school this morning at 7:24am, and share some of your concerns.

    How could it be that employers fail to see two degrees on an applicant’s c.v.? That is, should it not be obvious these people have taken a degree before the LL.B.?

    Also, to give you some sense of how infrequent the direct-to-law school route is, in my small section last year there was only one student (that I know of) that did not finish an undergrad before enrolling in the law program.

    So, the question I have is this: why on earth would there be motivation to change a degree designation for an entire graduating class when only a very small minority of these people will encounter the “LL.B. isn’t as good as a J.D.” problem in job applications? Surely candidates could include one line in their cover letter (if even necessary) stating that theirs is a non-direct entry program.

    I’m also at a loss at to where to find stats that J.D. associates are earning more money that LL.B. associates in the same firm/field/area of law.

    There must be something else at play here. Keeping up with the U of T Joneses perhaps?

  3. I agree with the previous two comments. As a Queen’s Law alum, I received the email. I think some of the backlash was one of optics – that is, the email gave the impression that alumni were being consulted after the decision to convert to JD had already been made.

    I agree the reasoning is not strong. I believe, but am not certain, that McGill Law still uses LLB and that they have as many if not more grads working in NYC than U of T Law using the JD. Aside from looking at all of the proper things on a CV, I assume most employers would next be most affected by the perceived reputation of the University more so than the name of the degree.

  4. In my view, U of T went to the JD because the then dean was deeply enamoured of all things American and made the US practice his standard. (Of course he’s now Provost of an upper-tier US university, so he obviously met high US standards himself.) Otherwise it’s a scam and a confusion, and not worth the extra money the ‘replacement’ degree was sold to former LL.B. grads for. Even New York law firms can understand a Canadian degree, and did for many years – and still do for grads from other schools.

  5. Man, there’s a whole lot of Queen’s Law alumni among Slawyers. :-). I also got the dean’s e-mail, along with the entire subsequent chain of people replying-all to the whole list, followed by numerous “Why am I getting all these replies?” and “Take me off this list” e-mails, all of which also went to the entire list. This is the third time I’ve seen this happen on different listservs in recent months. There’s no worse combination of unnecessary and dangerous communications tools than a listserv and “Reply All.”

    Anyway, I agree that it’s ludicrous to argue law firms outside Canada don’t know what a Canadian LL.B. is. And really, if the person interviewing you doesn’t know that a Canadian LL.B. is a graduate degree, isn’t that a pretty good sign you shouldn’t be working there? I ascribe the whole J.D. conversion effort to law students underinformed about how law firms actually hire lawyers and panicking about missing out on job opportunities. Rumours spread like wildfire through schools, and this has all the earmarks of a rumour-driven knee-jerk reaction.

    I remember when Canadian Lawyer placed Queen’s near the bottom of its law school rankings in 1992 — judging from students’ reactions, you’d think someone had decertified the law program. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth about how law firms would now discount a Queen’s LL.B. (In fairness, I suppose, we were graduating into a recession — certainly not the case for students today — so people were prone to overreaction.) The lawyers I later spoke with during articling all said basically the same thing: all Canadian law schools are good, and no one makes hiring decisions based on Canadian Lawyer rankings.

    I also think that lurking silently behind this whole J.D. thing is a certain degree of U of T envy. I was on the Orientation Committee for the Law ’94 class, and we drew up T-shirts with a “Top Ten” (it was the style at the time) reasons for going to Queen’s. Number two was: “Still on U of T’s waiting list.” True enough then, and I think true enough now: there’s a sentiment among other schools, especially Queen’s, that if U of T is doing it, it must be good. That looks to me like the elephant in this particular room.

  6. The link to a discussion about this issue on the University of Alberta Faculty of Law blog:

  7. Queen’s Law Dean sent out an email this morning, with this link to an interview with him on As It Happens: The interview is – “LL.B v. J.D.” – under Part 3, about 1/3 of the way through the track.

  8. The As It Happens is of course for Thursday Nov 15th. It is no longer “the latest show”, though it was this morning when Colin G posted the link.

    The Dean is not in my view very persuasive. He says the J.D. is “the international norm” – citing Melbourne U as well as U of T as others who have it (Melbourne has an undergrad LL.B. too and is adding a graduate level J.D.) Not very persuasive, and the argument still depends on a potential employer not reading a resumé or cover letter.

    I find it odd that even in the US, the master’s level degree, after the J.D., is still an LL.M. Howcum? Why not a J.M. at least? Though going from a Juris Doctor to a Juris Magister seems odd – but what then to call the intermediate level to the S.J.D., which seems to be commonly what a Ph.D. in law is called – or is that only in the US?

  9. You’re right, John, the interview is now yesterday’s news, and can be found

    I did a quick check of Osgoode, which confers a PhD, and U of T, where the terminal law degree is an SJD. There is no equivalent offered at Queen’s, though I’ve heard rumours of one being in the works.

  10. Dean Flanagan probably forget to read this, first; or, he’s not an ELO fan.

    I don’t think I’m going to speculate on why my reCaptcha words are “Bellevue” and “Precedent”.