Law Studies in Australia


When Jim Hathaway welcomed students to the Juris Doctor program at the University of Melbourne in Australia last year, he could sense the excitement.

With half the students already holding at least two university degrees and the remainder with experience in another career, the Dean of the Faculty of Law says the 70 students were selected for a particular reason.

“We were looking for students who have acquired a diversity of experience through travel, work and learning experiences,” he explains. “We want an engaging class, and to have students with a confident sense of self and understanding of the place of law in the broader social spectrum.”

Hathaway’s efforts to bring an international and thorough Juris Doctor program to the forefront developed when he first arrived in Australia. A Canadian, Hathaway taught law at Osgoode for 15 years and then in Michigan for another decade before he came to the Faculty of Law at the University of Melbourne.

With more than 15 countries represented in the Juris Doctor class, Hathaway says the program will suit the international students.

“Whether you want to practice law in Hong Kong, London, New York or Toronto, you want a law degree that is going to give you the best credential, because you never know where life is going to take you,” he says. “You really want a credential that you can take anywhere with you, and that is transportable.”

Hathaway’s logic is evident in the number of Canadians travelling abroad to complete their law degree. Whether Canadians move to England or Australia, a law degree has transformed into an international experience for many.

Australia’s Bond University is well-versed in the Canadian demand for an international law degree. Each year, dozens of Canadians board the plane to Australia to complete the Juris Doctor program at the Gold Coast-based university. Law professor Eric Colvin says there are countless reasons why Canadians travel abroad for their law degree.

“An international education can give a broader perspective on life and a range of experiences which can be attractive to Canadian employers,” Colvin says. “Law firms, especially the commercial firms, have become more international in their outlook as the global economy has grown and their clients are engaged more and more in international trade transactions.”

Ryan Hanna agrees. A 2005 Juris Doctor graduate, Hanna has since returned to Canada and is practicing law at a Toronto-based firm. He agrees with Colvin that an international law degree brings experience to a student.

“Not only does an international law degree develop your understanding of the law, but it gives you an interpersonal experience that will benefit you for your entire life and will help you in both your work and personal life,” he explains.

Yet Hanna doesn’t disregard the journey it takes to come back home and successfully practice law. He took an extra year of courses at Osgoode in order to satisfy the National Council of Accreditation’s requirements.

“Getting started in Canada, it’s tough to get into that big firm area,” he says. “You have to be aggressive and apply a strong sense of marketing.”

Hanna is a founding member of Bond’s Canadian Student Law Association, where Canadian students come together on campus and host social functions and gain a better sense of understanding about their journey back home.

Hanna’s own extracurricular activities were an attribute to his résumé, and says Canadians studying law abroad should do the same.

“Don’t go there not knowing what you have to do to get back. Do as much as you can to get volunteer experience and club memberships; use it to sell yourself. When you’re back in Canada, your summer positions and your other experiences and background will help to make you competitive,” he says.

Colvin offers another option for law school graduates.

“If finances permit, I would stay on in Australia after graduation and complete the requirements for professional admission here,” he says. “This involves a practical legal training program which takes about six months. The result is that, when you are seeking employment in Canada, you are doing so as someone who is already a solicitor in Australia. This can enhance your attractiveness to a Canadian law firm.”

Yet Colvin agrees with Hanna that returning to Canada takes preparation. “Bear in mind that law firms hire people, not degrees or marks,” Colvin says. “Try to build a picture of yourself as an all-rounder who not only has appropriate academic credentials, but who is actively engaged in a range of activities.”

Hanna followed this approach, and it paid off.

Though he worked hard to come back to Canada, Hanna says he wouldn’t have completed his law degree any other way.

“I feel that my degree from Australia has given me so much more than what I would have gotten if I had stayed home,” he says. “I’ll always remember my time overseas.”

Contributed by:

Cathy McNally of OzTREKK educational services. She can be contacted at

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