The national and regional law firms are under pressure from corporate clients to produce leading-edge legal research at minimum cost to them. These clients expect their law firms to be up to scratch on current and emerging legal services strategies when they retain them. More often that not, both the law and application strategy are multi-jurisdictional and multi-disciplinary; law to the extent necessary, but not necessarily only law. Smaller firms and boutiques in non-commercial practice areas just don’t have the resources to engage in this level of research.
Canadian students who opt for legal education in the top tier international law schools in the UK have a cost free solution for the Canadian law firm community. It’s one of the opportunities that’s evolved from the combination of the new Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s (FLSC) “approved Canadian law degree” and the amended foreign law degree accreditation program put in force to comply with Ontario’s Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act (FARPA).
An “approved Canadian law degree” must consist of three years of legal education. In the UK, holders of undergraduate degrees can obtain fully accredited LL.B degrees in two years by enrolling in “accelerated law degree” programs. The two year accelerated degree programs contains the same curriculum and law course structure as every LL.B/JD law program in a commonwealth common law country. However the “dreaded third year” of optional courses is eliminated. Ontario law schools have taken notice of these and are now all offering two year “Combined Law Degrees” that enable students to complete the law portion of their program in two years and enroll in selected MA programs for their third year.
In the UK, Canadian students who complete the two year accelerated LL.B degree program are given more latitude. Instead of being slotted into a pre-determined MA program they’re entitled to select an LL.M program of their choice with a pre-negotiated graduate thesis topic. They spend the third year in an intensive masters of law program under the supervision of a fully-fledged law professor with Ph.D. status who, in top tier UK law schools, is invariably linked to an international organization or association. Canadian students are encouraged to undertake comparative research that focuses on both multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional issues.
Upon graduation they return to Canada with both the conventional LL.B. degree and a true graduate law degree with an LL.M designation. The two-year LL.B plus one year LL.M counts as three years of legal education. They will have applied for foreign degree accreditation upon completion of their two year LL.B and when they eventually return with the addition of the third year can qualify for bar admission in 3-6 months under the FARPA mandated foreign degree accreditation criteria.
Canadian law firms, both large and small, can use this to their advantage in one of two ways: National and regional firms that take on second year summer students can hire a UK law school graduate who already has their LL.B designation and use the summer period to familiarize themselves with the student. As well, they can enter into negotiations with them to customize their LL.M research thesis to match a leading-edge research need in an area the firm would like to demonstrate international expertise capability. Within a year they will have both a definitive piece of legal research in hand that’s associated with a Ph.D. credentialed international legal expert, and an associate with the LL.M credential to provide the critical support necessary to provide credibility when marketing this to clients.
For smaller firms that can’t afford the luxury of summer programs, or corporations and organizations with or without legal departments that don’t provide summer positions, many Canadian students are looking for opportunities to leverage their two year accelerated LL.B into an LL.M research partnership with a Canadian source. For corporations that play in the international arena you may well discover that one of the primary intelligence sources for legal policy in your industry or field is a law professor at one of the top tier UK law schools, particularly if it involves business in the European Community (EU) with the Asia/Pacific rim. For smaller firms and/or boutiques, check out law journals and international conferences in your market niche.
The selling point in all of this is that smaller law firms can now make a valid claim to having the same level of in-depth expertise in a designated area of law as the national and regional firms. Corporations and organizations can obtain legal information and strategies without having to pay the up-front research costs to a law firm.
Contributed by: John G. Kelly, B.Com., L.LB., M.A. (jud. Admin.), F.CIS.
John G. Kelly is a former law professor, legal expense management consultant to U.S. law firms and president of Canada Law From Abroad which provides Canadian students with an educational bridge to legal education in top tier U.K. law schools.