The J.D. vs. LL.B degree -

The J.D. vs. LL.B degree

Why are schools switching to J.D.? What’s the difference, anyway?


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When law students convene at the University of Calgary this month to slog over case studies and legal precedents, they will be working toward a different degree than their predecessors: a juris doctor (J.D.) rather than the traditional bachelor of laws (LL.B) degree.

On Sept. 1, Calgary joined an ever-lengthening list of Canadian law schools to stamp J.D. on their degrees instead of those other letters. But the thinking behind the switch seems as much about politics as it is about education.

The J.D. designation is common in the United States, where students must complete an undergraduate degree before attending law school. Meanwhile, the LL.B. designation has reigned supreme in Canada and other Commonwealth countries such as Britain. The difference is that in Canada—like in the States—most students have already completed an undergrad degree before entering law school; across the pond, students can attend law school straight out of high school.

Proponents say that the J.D. signals to foreign—read American—employers that a Canadian law grad isn’t just a “snot-nosed kid barely five years removed from high school,” as Toronto litigator David Cheif­etz put it on the Canadian law website Slaw. The J.D. is now seen as “more prestigious than the LL.B.,” explains Simon Fodden, professor emeritus at Osgoode Hall law school at York University, which offers the J.D.

Indeed, the University of Toronto became the first law school to make the switch in 2001 because it was concerned that the LL.B. “understated the level of education our students had,” dean Mayo Moran told Lawyers Weekly last year. Since then, many Canadian law schools have held plebiscites and debates, and switched to the J.D., including the universities of British Columbia, Western Ontario and Queen’s.

But critics say the change amounts to “juris envy,” as Vancouver lawyer Tony Wilson quipped in a Canadian Bar Association article. More serious criticisms abound: that this marks the “Americanization” of Canadian law.


The J.D. vs. LL.B degree

  1. What I said was that the JD may be seen as more prestigious but that people won't be fooled. It's all cosmetic. Too bad I came off as supporting something I spent the interview deriding.

    Oh, and while we're at it: I do hope the layout people at Macleans were having a joke, because their use of the gavel to illustrate the piece is a typical mistake. No Canadian judge ever used a gavel. That's a purely American thing.

  2. The claim that 'in the United States … students must complete an undergraduate degree before attending law school' is false. The suggestion that Canadian students graduating with JDs have all completed an undergraduate degree before attending law school is also false–many schools admit students after two years of university, including 'JD' schools. And the notion that an LL.B somehow understates the level of law education of a first-degree lawyer is, well, risible. Admittedly, if you charge students massively higher fees you have to pretend to be giving them something in exchange. Maybe Canadia law students are fooled by their pretend 'doctorates.' No one else is.

  3. The JD is clearly the more appropriate name for the degree – although it is technically possible to get into a Canadian law school with only two years of undergrad this is exceptionally rare. In the UK and Australia kids are graduating with LLBs at 20, and they never wrote entrance tests like the LSAT, nor submitted dissertations, which are common in the third year of Canadian programs. Law is a graduate degree in Canada – the legal equivalent of the MD, hence JD is the right designation. Hopefully the LLB will be abolished completely in Canada soon.

    • it's a professional degree, NOT a graduate degree.

      It's incredibly likely that anybody seriously looking at hiring a newly minted law student will be unaware of that student's degree requirements. Ironic, since the change was sold to poor unsuspecting students as a tool that would help them get jobs in new york (heh).

      • Thumbs up Mike.

        It's surprising that those poor unsuspecting law students were not familiar with research. Lesson 1: Don't believe everything your hear. Lesson 2: A fancy title is sometimes just that, and Canada is full of them…..look at our Prime Minister.

    • I am quite curious where David went to law school. I have never heard of a law student submitting a dissertation. I am a lawyer with a doctorate in law (a real one, not a JD). It takes several years to write a doctorate; you don't just submit one for a 3 credit course. Even many LL.M. programs are "by course" alone and do not even require a thesis. A major paper of 40 pages is not what qualifies as a graduate degree thesis, let alone a doctoral dissertation (which usually runs to hundreds of pages).

    • The way the brits and most other countries in the world look at it is by saying doctorates are reserved for a course with original research. Both the North American MD and JD are professional degrees but do not have original research in them. That is why most countries do not call their medical and law degrees doctorates.

  4. I'm just waiting for a law school to come out with a new and improved JD+, or maybe a "mega JD". After all, that's way more prestigious than a lowly plain jane JD.

  5. Oh, by the way, at Oxford and Cambridge, guess what you graduate from law school with? A B.A. Somehow, I don't think a Wall Street law firm will hold a University of Calgary grad with a JD in higher esteem than the Oxbridge grad. PS, in Britain, you do go to law school fresh out of school, but it's after A levels, not GCSEs. The latter are more akin, academically, to grade 12, whereas the latter are academically more of the standard of Quebec CEGEP, from which, I note, you can enter directly into law school at McGill (and others in that province).

    • A 20 year old graduating with a Bachelor of Laws from either Oxford or Cambridge would know almost nothing about 'lawyering' – they would still have to study to be a Solicitor (at another institution) or Barrister (via the complex Inns of Court and Barrister Vocational training). However, a University of Calgary J.D. graduate would be ready for their Bar Admission course with any Canadian Law Society and to article, and then practice law – and would be both older and having an average of 8 years of post-secondary education behind them. The Wall Street law firm would certainly give a much higher preference for the ready-to-work U of C J.D. then an Oxbridge kid who wouldn't know what to do in a North American courtroom.

      • Sorry to burst your bubble SJD Lady, but when that pimple faced kid out of Oxbridge graduates, they too merely have to article and then take a set of exams, before then can be enrolled as a solicitor. The articles may be longer than in Canada, but the process is more or less the same. In face, when I articled in Ontario, the process took about 18 months, 12 months at a firm and 4 months in the LSUC Bar Admission Course. That doesn't make me more career ready than a new qualified solicitor in England or Wales or has completed 24 months of articles. Today, if I were to look at a candidate for a position at my firm, I'd sooner look at a freshly minted solicitor out of England then a newly graduated holder of a JD from the US, who merely passed the bar without any practical experience as a lawyer (notwithstanding them having an additional 4 years of undergrad). Law school prepares you very well to be a graduate of law school, but nothing beats on the job training to be a solicitor (I can't speak to barristers, as I don't practise as one).

        • In "face" was meant to be "fact"

      • except there would never be a 20 year old kid graduating with a bachelor of laws because its called a BA. In England, students enter university at the age of 19 and the BA is 3 years long meaning the youngest a graduating student could be would be 22.

        • Yes, this is very true – few, if anyone, graduates at 20. The normal age of graduation is 22/23 (moreover, the current average qualification age for a lawyer in the UK is actually 30!). After graduation, add on one-year for the legal practice course, and two year in a training contract (articling). Then factor in the numbers of law students in the UK – competition is a lot of more intense than many other jurisdictions in terms of obtaining training contracts/articles. SJD Lady, you are ill-informed.

  6. Crap article. Provides hardly any info

  7. david, you do something called the LNAT for entry into numerous prestigious schools in the UK. I understand what you are saying but one of the major differences is students doing the LLB in the UK are a 100% sure they want to be lawyers in high school and therefore skip the 4 years of university prior to a JD. I do not know how it works in Canada but I just wanted to make this clear :)

    • Most schools in the UK don’t have an LNAT requirement,actually. Yes, those who accept more foreign students would but a vast majority which my friends attend do not. The LLB is rather pointless in my eyes. I’m British and came to Canada for my schooling, to obtain a degree in political science and then I hope to obtain my JD in CANADA, why? Because it’s a lot better than in the UK where I’d be a young adult with no law experience and no one in any firm would take me seriously. Two degrees is better than one.

  8. LLB is the Legume Baccala, a nice codfish dish. It was an apprenticeship test for cooks in chambers.

    You’d better off study the Juris Doctor, most people can pronounce Doctor and it sounds more learned.