Will graduates holding both a U.S. and Canadian law license have a leg up in the legal job market? Administrators at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law think they will, and are introducing a curriculum intended to prepare students for admission in both countries within the traditional three-year J.D. timeframe.
The “North American Law Degree,” as the program is dubbed, will be the first of its kind when it debuts next fall, according to dean Douglas Sylvester. Several schools allow students to split time between a U.S. and a Canadian law school and obtain degrees from both. At ASU, students would remain at the Phoenix campus, spending two years studying U.S. law and their third preparing for the bar exam in one or more Canadian province. Graduates wouldn’t hold a Canadian degree, but could practice there.
Most Canada provinces grant waivers that allow attorneys from common-law countries like the United States to sit for their exams as long as they have training in Canadian law — criminal law and procedure, for example, or evidence, contracts, professional responsibility or constitutional law. (This path isn’t available in Quebec, which has a civil-law system.)
Arizona recently adopted a rule allowing certain students to sit for the state bar exam during the February of their 3L year, which would allow them to sit for the bar in Canada right after graduation, Sylvester said.
“I think there’s a huge demand for attorneys with the ability to practice in the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “With every cross-border transaction, companies need to bring in law firms in both countries. We’ve been meeting with firms in Canada that are interested in attorneys who are dual-licensed.”
Administrators expect the program to draw some U.S. students but mostly Canadians — despite the fact that ASU’s $26,267 annual tuition exceeds that at most Canadian law schools. Sylvester noted that the law school admissions process is far more competitive in Canada. Second, it is easier for a U.S. attorney to qualify for the bar in Canada than for a Canadian in most U.S. states.
Finally, Canadians might be attracted by Arizona’s warm weather; Phoenix already boasts a fairly robust population of Canadian attorneys, said Sylvester, himself a Canadian national who holds joint U.S. citizenship. The law school has been working with the Canada Arizona Business Council, which promotes cross-border trade.
“As deal flow among small- to medium-sized businesses increases between the U.S. and Canada, more options are needed for handling cross-border legal issues than just the few trained specialists in big firms,” said R. Glenn Williamson, the council’s chief executive officer.
Hurdles remain for U.S. lawyers who want to be licensed in Canada. Lawyers there must complete a 10-month articling period under the supervision of an experienced attorney, and so would ASU graduates. However, provinces including Ontario are discussing alternatives to articling, including legal clinics and practical-skills training.
ASU plans to bring in Canadian attorneys to teach the 3L Canadian law courses, Sylvester said. The school is already talking with Canadian law firms about creating summer associate positions and articling spots for its graduates.
“This really is about creating a pool of graduates who understand and are able to practice in both countries,” he said. “Our students will be far better prepared to seek licensure in Canada.”
Karen Sloan is a reporter for The National Law Journal, a Legal affiliate based in New York.