• Dov Magnum (law student and recovering American)

Canada versus the USA: a 5 round bout for aspiring lawyers (a law student perspective)

PRE-FIGHT

As an American-turned-Canadian, I still find myself adjusting to the differences in culture, particularly now that I’m a law student in the latter. All the law that I had absorbed over the years thanks to John Grisham and Aaron Sorkin has alas fallen by the wayside. But just because my earlier exposure to American law laid the foundation for where I am today, doesn’t mean that my current residence doesn’t offer as much—if not more—than my place of birth.

To test this theory, I thought it best to have the U.S. and Canada square off, in a 5-round battle, to determine which country has the more attractive prospects for aspiring lawyers.

Each round will focus on an issue (Rd.1: Legal Education; Rd.2: Criminal law; Rd.3: Torts; Rd.4 Constitutional law; Rd.5: Judiciary), while examining the strengths and weaknesses of both countries.

At the end of each round, a score will be given. And because this is head-to-head combat, I think it most appropriate to utilize the “10-point must” scoring system (utilized in mixed martial arts and boxing), where the winner of each round is awarded 10 points, the loser 9 (or 8 if overtly dominated).

Let’s get it on!

ROUND 1: LEGAL EDUCATION

USA

When people think of rich and powerful lawyers, their attention automatically gravitates towards the U.S. After all, it’s the home of Wall Street and multi-billion dollar lawsuits. But before one can dream of collecting his or her seven or eight-figure payday, one has to go to school first.

PROS

North, south, east, or west—there is only one Haaavahd!

Home to some of the most prestigious law schools in the world. Those who gain acceptance into any of these elite schools have an impeccable record for landing future gigs that allow them to do virtually anything in leadership. Everything, from running countries to Fortune 500 companies, is at their disposal.

Virtually anyone can go to law school in the U.S.

Sometime around the early 90s colleges realized law schools were a real cash cow. Not only were some charging as much as medical schools, but their profit margins were far greater, with law school requiring minimal overhead expenses; all that’s needed is an instructor, classroom, and white board (markers are not included at Robson Hall).

Nowadays, schools don’t even require classrooms, as accredited low residency programs, and unaccredited online schools, continue to emerge.

In fact, law school in some states is optional, as admission to the bar does not require a law degree.

No Articling

That’s right, as soon as you finish your three glorious years of law school, you can enter the workforce. Unfortunately, the U.S. Bar exam is a killer.

No Ph.D., SJD, or Master’s degree required to become a Professor

While an additional doctorate may not be required to be a professor in the U.S., it used to be the rule, more than the exception. Rather than having to settle in for another 4-5 years of intense study after the JD, hopeful scholars would complete judicial clerkships. The research and knowledge gathered during that time would then serve as a foundation for later scholarship.

Unfortunately, more schools seem to really value the doctorate and obtaining it appears to be the direction American law schools are headed. But the good news is that I’m sure this preference has more to do with the desire to increase scholarship, not tuition. After all, for a one-year Master’s degree at Harvard, one only has to shell out about $90,000. Before you laugh, keep in mind, this includes room and board.

CONS

Incredibly high tuition.

The competition for a top-20 school in the U.S. is fierce. Many aspiring lawyers dream of attending a big school, where the likelihood of obtaining a lucrative position at a big firm is increased. But is the increased chance of landing a Wall Street or Fortune 500 gig worth shelling out $150,000-$200,000 to learn the same think being taught at Suffolk night school?

Anyone can go to law school!

Yes, I also listed this as a positive. For some, it’s the opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream. For many others, it’s a chance to rack up insurmountable debt, while never finding a job in their chosen field. Because admission standards are so relaxed, anyone can attend a law school, somewhere. As a result, the job market is oversaturated

Fun Fact: there are more people in law school than there are practicing lawyers. And 70% of the world’s practicing lawyers do it in this country.

CANADA

PROS

“Dude, I got accepted to a top-20 school!” –Me, phoning my mom after my early offer.

Because there are only 19 law schools that teach Common Law in Canada (unless, in the last ten minutes, Ontario decided to open another location to deal with their rural shortages (too soon to jab?)), every school here is top-20!

As such, the job market is NOT saturated…unless, you refuse to leave a major city…and work less than 40 hours a week. But regardless, if you need a job and are willing to travel, work can be found.

Tuition costs

I know the wonderful people of Toronto may disagree with me on this one, but despite their increases (what is it now, just over $30K/year?), it’s still a bargain compared to many state schools in the U.S. that hover in the $40-$50K range per year.

But Toronto is the exception, not the rule. Manitoba, for instance, barely cracks the $10K mark. And with one of the best bursary programs in the country (dare I say—world?), some students nearly make a profit for going to Robson Hall.

(Disclaimer: this—in no way—should impact this year’s tuition negotiations. The writer, who shall remain anonymous, in no way represents the views or opinions of any other student attending Robson Hall).

Articles

While I listed absence of articles in the U.S. as positive, the reality is it still takes 7 years to become a lawyer (4-year bachelor’s, plus 3-year JD). The same is pretty much true in Canada, with many schools accepting a 3-year bachelor’s, plus the 3-year JD, plus 1 year for articles. The difference, however, is that in Canada one usually gets paid during one of those 7 years (articling).

Articles may also have something to do with the fact that the bar exam isn’t quite the same animal as it is in the U.S.

CONS

“Dude, I gotta retake the LSAT…” –Me, phoning my mom after falling short of the Canadian standard.

Sure, the high standards of Canadian law schools are great if you can meet them, but if you can’t, then it may mean having to move to Australia. Or South Dakota. While the former sounds more appealing in terms of climate, the latter offers better scholarships and job opportunities for people looking to hang their shingle in locations with fewer than 50 people.

ROUND 1: CANADA-10, USA-9

ROUND 2: CRIMINAL LAW

USA

PROS

No Double Jeopardy

This principal, ingrained in most Americans I know, is right up there with “innocent until proven guilty.” And no, I’m not talking about the Ashley Judd/Tommy Lee Jones movie (although, maybe I should be). I’m talking about the 5th Amendment clause that prevents accused persons from being tried more than once for the same crime. In other words, once acquitted, the state (Crown) cannot appeal.

Can you imagine if the OJ trial happened in Canada? The Crown would have had two more attempts to incarcerate the beloved star of The Naked Gun trilogy. On the other hand, can you imagine the TV ratings during the appeals?

As much as I like overtime, especially when stakes are at their highest, I agree with the notion that the burden should remain on the prosecution. And what better way to emphasize this than to give them one chance to make their case.

(In the interest of full-disclosure, I did happen to appreciate the Crown’s appeal—and subsequent victory—with the Guy Turcotte case.)