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Future JD Students

Comments and Reflections About a Canadian Legal Education

By Aimee Burtch, Recruitment & Outreach Manager, Queen’s University Faculty of Law

Aimee BurtchAfter more than a dozen cycles as an admission professional, I have met thousands of students who were thinking about the practice of law and whether or not it’s the right fit for them. Some students were born with the dream of becoming a lawyer (after spending their youth arguing with their siblings); some were fresh out of university and unsure of their path. For all students, the questions remain the same: Should I go to law school? When should I apply to law school? Which law school should I choose? What will my career look like?

The great part about law school is that there is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions. Law school is a personal choice, and it’s one that you’ll need to make on your own, with the help of friends, family, colleagues, and admission staff like myself.

First, should you go to law school? Some of you may already know the answer to this fundamental question. You have entered university fully intending the next step will be law school. Some of you may still be deciding if law is right for you. You’ve watched TV shows and movies that were persuasive, or you’ve had personal experiences that make law an intriguing choice, but you’re not sure if law is the career for you. My suggestion to you is to talk to people. Talk to the professor in an undergraduate course you’re taking, talk to that friend who has a lawyer in the family, attend education fairs at your local university, and reach out to a law school to talk with admission staff (in fact, inquire about talking with a current law school student at that school). The more people you talk to, the more complete will be your picture of what law school is really like.

Another great part about law school is that it can be an option for anyone, anytime. With no required prerequisite degree programs in Canada, you can apply for law school from any background: business, social sciences, engineering, hard sciences, humanities, and so forth. If you don’t end up choosing law now, know that you can come back to it at any point in your career. That should give you some comfort.

Second, when should you apply to law school? Some students will apply while they’re still enrolled in university, while others will wait until they’ve completed their degree. There is no requirement that you attend law school directly from an undergraduate program, and in some cases, students benefit from having time off before they attend law school. Application deadlines will vary across Canada from early November into March. It will be your responsibility to adhere to those deadlines.

Third, which law school should you choose? You may begin to think about this at the application stage, and more often than not at the decision stage once you have received an offer of admission. The answer to this question depends on multiple factors and the weight of importance you place on each of them. You may consider the cost of tuition and living expenses, the size of the class or school, the location, the breadth of courses, the experiential learning or international opportunities, the diversity of the student body, the clubs and activities available, the access to faculty members, or the job placement statistics. One thing I am confident in saying is that no matter what Canadian law school you choose, it will provide you with an excellent education, a diverse and interesting student body, as well as an engaged faculty. Law school is what you make of it, and no matter what school you choose, it will be up to you to contribute to the life of that law school.

Finally, what will your career look like? Many of you may know, or think you know, what type of career you would like once you graduate from law school. Others are entering law school hoping to find the path that suits them. Start law school with an open mind! Expect a standard first-year curriculum in your first year. You will study the foundations, including many areas that you may not have been exposed to yet. You will then progress through law school taking a diverse set of courses of your choosing. Some students graduate having focused on a few specific areas of law, and others will graduate having taken courses from multiple areas. Many students leave law school on one career path, and then within five years are in a completely new career. Knowing that any decision you make in law school (in terms of practice area) does not set your path in stone should put you at ease.

The transferrable skills you learn in law school will be your biggest asset. Whether you decide to become a lawyer, work in government, do consulting work, manage a department, or become a professor, you’ll be highly regarded in any career of your choosing. You will have mastered invaluable skills: writing concisely, taking complex information and constructing clear arguments, working effectively with others, respecting different viewpoints, among others.

I know that making a decision to invest your money and time into law school is a big decision. You should not take it lightly. If you are reading this, you are already on the right path: you are doing some preliminary research. On behalf of the admission representatives at all of the Canadian law schools, I wish you the best of luck at this stage in your life. I encourage you to reach out to us if you have any lingering questions.

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Apr 17, 2014, 14:56 PM

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