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Canada: Dalhousie Law School
By Matthew G. Scott, published August 2009, last updated by TLS April 2010
Dalhousie Law School is a unique institution with a proud and distinguished history, and was founded in 1883, making it the oldest university-affiliated common law school in the British Commonwealth. As one of only three common law schools in Atlantic Canada (the others being the University of New Brunswick Faculty of Law and L’Université de Moncton Faculté de Droit), Macleans has ranked Dalhousie Law School as the best law school in Atlantic Canada, 2nd best east of Toronto, and 6th strongest in Canada. This ranking reflects that over the course of its existence it has developed a diverse curriculum and built up an internationally recognized faculty that provides students with excellent opportunities in all areas of legal education. Furthermore, the school’s long history and well established reputation of academic excellent offers student’s confidence that their Dalhousie Law degrees will be recognized nationally and internationally.
Dalhousie Law School is situated in the Weldon Law Building, on Studley Campus. The building was originally completed in 1966, but has been renovated three times, most recently in 2004. The campus itself is located in the beautiful coastal city of Halifax, which is the capital of Nova Scotia. The 2006 census placed the population of the Halifax Regional Municipality at 372,679 with an urban area population of just over 280,000, making it the largest urban area in Atlantic Canada and largest population centre in Canada east of Quebec City. The proximity to the Atlantic Ocean results in a comparatively small temperature variation year round, ranging from average highs of 73 (23 Celsius) in July and August to average lows of 17 (-8.5 Celsius) in January and February.
Halifax also features a vibrant cultural scene, being home to many performance venues such as the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, Neptune Theatre and the Music Room; while featuring major cultural attractions like the Symphony Nova Scotia, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The city also boasts many events and festivals throughout the year, from the Atlantic Film Festival, to the Atlantic Jazz Festival, to occasional Tall Ship events. The city also boasts the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and will be hosting the 2011 Canada Winter Games.
For International (and U.S.) students:
Note, Dalhousie Law School teaches Common Law, like virtually all Canadian Law Schools. Universities within the province of Québec generally teach Civil Law, because of the different legal system within that province. The only exceptions to this are the University of Ottawa (which teaches Common, Civil, and both) and McGill University (which teaches both).
Admission to Dalhousie Law School is difficult to forecast, because Dalhousie chooses not to provide any information regarding the median or average academic performances or LSATs for their incoming students. What is known is that the school has a rolling admission system, with a soft deadline on applications (admissions start on a rolling basis) of November 30th and a hard deadline on applications of February 28th. Additionally, it is known that Dalhousie only requires two years of university towards a degree, will use the higher of two LSAT scores and will accept LSAT scores as far back as June 1991.
Dalhousie expects candidates to submit LSAT scores, university transcripts, an application form, a personal statement, and at least two letters of recommendation. For the personal statement, Dalhousie advises students that it must indicate why they wish to attend law school and what qualities they think they will bring. Further, although some applicants are admitted who have just two years of university work, the vast majority of applicants have obtained an undergraduate degree before they begin law school. Dalhousie also emphasizes that achievements in extracurricular and employment are an asset for all applicants.
Although most students are admitted based on their application, occasionally the admissions committee may require applicants to have an interview. The decision to interview rests solely with this committee, not with applicants. The interviews take place in May and June, and in recent years have been conducted in Halifax, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. It is possible that because of the late time period for interviews at Dalhousie may mean if you are admitted to other schools you need to ask for an extension on your decision making window.
Above and beyond regular applications, special consideration may be given to students for whom despite economic, cultural, racial or ethnic disadvantages have made exceptional contributions to the community or shown an outstanding capacity to respond to challenges. Furthermore, First Nations applicants who do not meet the regular admissions criteria may be admitted on successful completion of the Native Law Program in Saskatchewan. Among First Nations students, Dalhousie gives special consideration to those applicants who are members of Nova Scotia’s black or Mi’kmaq communities. Finally, it is worth noting that Dalhousie admits a small number of students who have not obtained the formal academic requirements, provided they are at least 26 years of age and have demonstrated by the length and quality of their nonacademic experience the equivalent of the academic requirements.
It is difficult to forecast the financial cost of attending Dalhousie Law School because the information is not available on their website. The LSAC Guide to Canadian Law Schools states that tuition and fees for full time students is $12,487; but this figure does not include books or estimates on room and board. Students are advised to contact Dalhousie Law School directly to confirm the figures.
Financing Your Education:
Attending Law School can be a costly endeavor, and it is important to know how to generate the funding necessary to attend. Dalhousie Law School does offer what it states is a “generous bursary and scholarship program”, but it does not provide figures on how much money is allocated each year. Each year, the program kicks off in the second or third week of October, and is sometimes by the Law School referred to as “in course” because it starts off after students have registered for law school and been in class for a few weeks. Students need to apply for this financial aid in September, which in 2008-2009 became available in the “Materials Room” on September 19th, 2008. To check the status of the application for your year of studies, you may wish to visit this page, which will contain the most up to date information: http://law.dal.ca/Current_Students/Financial%20Assistance/
Dalhousie’s page on financial assistance does not seem to give any indication of things you should do before enrolling in Law School. In the opinion of the author of this article, there are some avenues which you should explore before beginning your studies. The first, and perhaps most important thing you should consider, is your eligibility for provincial aid. Depending on your province of residency, you may be able to receive financial aid. Dalhousie does helpfully provide a link to the financial aid page of many different provinces here: http://law.dal.ca/Current_Students/Financial Assistance/Financial_Assistance/Government_Student_Loans/Provincial_Student_Loans/index.php
Beyond the provincial or federal aid, another possibility to finance your education is to seek out private student loans from banks. Many banks offer Professional Student Loan programs designed to assist students who are entering professional degrees like Law. Additionally, law schools frequently have agreements in place with a particular branch of a particular bank to provide a special rate to incoming students. For example, Osgoode has a special relationship with Royal Bank of Canada ($55,000 over 4 years) while the University of Toronto has a special relationship with Scotiabank ($80,000 over 3 years). These programs offer favourable interest rates and do not require paying down the principal until 1 year after your studies. Both of these figures do get reduced if you already have existing loans from financial aid or other sources, but still generally offer an idea of the type of programs available for students at other law schools. It is advisable to contact Dalhousie and ask if they have any special programs available for their students.
For International (and U.S.) students:
Note that you are likely not eligible for provincial or federal aid, but may qualify for aid from your own federal government.
Dalhousie Law School, like most Canadian law schools, can perhaps best have its academic program divided into first and upper year components. Comparatively, the first year of the program is entirely compulsory, while the upper years are almost entirely optional. When students arrive at Dalhousie, they are first immersed in an eight-week orientation course designed to introduce students to the study of law, by examining four fundamental perspectives on the law: the comparative, the historical, the philosophical, and the professional. Upon completing the orientation period, students are required to enroll in Contracts & Judicial Rule-Making, Criminal Justice, Fundamentals of Public Law, Legal Research and Writing, Property in Historical Context and Tort Law and Damage Compensation. The first year program at Dalhousie resembles programs at many other Canadian Law Schools, with perhaps the glaring exception of a Constitutional Law class. This is taken in the 2nd year instead.
In second and third years, students do gain much more freedom than in their initial year of studies. During the second year, students are expected to take Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, and an elective class which is evaluated by a major paper, informally known as a “paper class”. Above and beyond this, students are expected to take electives to bring them to approximately 15 hours per week in each term, which over the course of the year must be a minimum of 29 hours and a maximum of 31 hours. Individual semesters however are allowed to vary from a minimum of 12 hours per week to a maximum of 17 hours per week. Dalhousie does require however that when students choose the maximum load of 31 hours, that the individual maintain a passing grade in all classes, subject to the normal requirements.
Students will find that the third year of study is largely similar to the second year, though instead of Civil Procedure and Constitutional Law, students are obliged to take The Legal Profession and Professional Responsibility, at least one paper class as in 2nd year, and electives to balance out their schedule. The requirements for their course load remain the same as in 2nd year. Finally, third year students may be required to attend legal aid clinics, the law courts and special lectures as part of their program. Dalhousie also advises students that in addition to class and writing requirements, all students are required to participate in mooting exercises, though it is unclear if this is during the first, second or third year of study.
Dalhousie Law also advises students that the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society has a list of recommended courses for law students to take, above and beyond the base requirements required by the school. These are courses which it feels, for students intending to practice in Nova Scotia, are part of the general knowledge expected of members of the bar. These include, listed in the following order: Business Organizations; Taxation; Commercial Transactions (including Secured Transactions); Administrative Law; Trusts and Equity, Succession; Family Law; Evidence; Real Estate Transactions / Advanced Property Law (though many options exist for this, including planning law, landlord and tenant, environmental law, insurance, etc.); and, one “Perspective Course” (for example: Legal History or Jurisprudence, etc.). It is common at many Canadian law schools to “suggest” but not require courses along these lines in upper years as part of a well rounded legal education. Students who wish to ignore the recommendations may always do so of course, but it may not be beneficial to do so.
Beyond the base course work, students also have the opportunity to concentrate their studies in one of four base areas, namely health law, business law, marine and environmental law, and law and technology. Among these, possibly due to its location in the maritime city of Halifax, Dalhousie is particularly renowned for the strength of its marine and environmental law program, with the emphasis being on the law of the sea. The program now offers numerous courses in marine and environmental law and related areas, being one of the largest curricular offerings in this respect in North America.
Finally, Dalhousie offers a healthy set of dual degree programs. Students can enroll in an Bachelor of Law / Masters of Business (LL.B / MBA) program, which takes place over four years; a Bachelor of Law / Masters of Public Information (LL.B / MP) program, which is also a four year program; a Bachelor of Law / Masters of Library and Information Studies (LL.B / MLIS) program, also four years; and finally, a Bachelor of Law / Masters of Health Services Administration (LL.B / MHSA), which allows an accelerated acquisition of the law degree in conjunction with the graduate degree in health administration. It appears, based on the outline provided on Dalhousie’s website that this program takes four years as well, but this is not explicitly stated in the summary on Dalhousie’s website.
Quality of Life:
Students at Dalhousie Law School appear to have a good quality of life in Halifax. The Law School emphasizes that since the founding of Dalhousie University in 1818, it has played a prominent role in the city of Halifax, but also that, it’s been shaped by the city’s vibrant culture, geography and friendly people. The faculty firmly believes that Halifax is a great place to unwind, study and gain work experience. Certainly there is no shortage of interesting historic sites, such as the Halifax Citadel, or cultural activities, such as the Tall Ships, to entertain.
The school itself also contributes to the quality of life. To begin with, all students are member of the Law Students’ Society (LSS) which appoints representatives to the faculty on their behalf, arranges for speakers to visit the school, and organizes social events and programs. The LSS also produces the law students’ newspaper, The Weldon Times, The Dalhousie Journal of Legal Studies and the annual yearbook. These combined factors allow students to feel connected and engaged with the law school.
Of course, in addition to the LSS, Dalhousie offers a variety of sports and social facilities. For the law school proper, this includes the Environmental Law Students’ Society (ELSS), Society for corporate and Environmental and Social Responsibility (CESR), the John Read International Law Society (ILSS) and the Law Hour Speakers’ Committee. As an interesting note for those with a historic bent, the Domus Legis Society at Dalhousie is Canada’s oldest law society. The greater school also features a variety of athletics and sports complexes known as “Dalplex”. Indoor facilities at Dalplex include a 50-meter swimming pool, and a gymnasium/field house which is the size of a football field. This allows students who wish to get involved in extracurricular life outside of the law school the chance to do this as well.
When it comes to possibilities for working in journals, research clinics, legal aid clinics or mooting, Dalhousie has options as well. Students may participate in the Dalhousie Law Journal, the Canadian Journal of Law and Technology or the Ocean Year Book if they wish to participate on a journal. Additionally, students may work with its research institutes, the Law and Technology Institute and Health Law Institute. Students could also work with its legal aid clinic, which provides practical experience that emphasizes the development of professional skills in a real-life context. Finally, individuals at Dalhousie can participate in one of the several competitive national and international mooting programs that exist at Dalhousie.
Whether you are studying, doing carriage work on a journal article, or preparing for a moot, access to a top class law library can be a large aid. The Sir James Dunn Law Library opened in the summer of 1989, and features over 285,000 law volumes, 5 full time professional staff, access to all major Canadian and American legal databases and 2,200 law journals. It also seats 282 individuals, and is open 7 days a week during the semester, with extended hours during exams. For many individuals, the law library will become almost a second home during their studies at the law school, so it is important to like the facilities.
Dalhousie Law School seems to be able to place students well across the country on a regular basis. According to self-reported preliminary placement surveys of students conducted in June of the graduating year, placement for Dalhousie Law grads have been 96% in the past several years, finding positions in every province and internationally. This speaks to the caliber of education received at Dalhousie and the strong reputation the school has acquired for producing top notch students. In fact, in 2008 Macleans found that Dalhousie Is the 2nd best school in Canada when it comes to producing faculty hires, trailing only the University of Toronto in that category. It also does fairly well at producing Supreme Court Clerkships, being 6th behind a distinguished list that includes [in order], McGill, Toronto, Ottawa, Victoria and Saskatchewan.
The only real concern for Dalhousie Law Students is that Dalhousie ranked 11th in “Elite Firm Hiring” and 12th in “National Reach” as defined by Macleans. Both of these factors are likely influenced somewhat by the location of elite firms and the type of students who attend. A school like Toronto or McGill, the top two schools for elite firm hiring for example, will probably have an easier time with the biggest labour markets being in their respective cities. However, not being in a large city is not necessarily an excuse for a lack of elite firm hiring either, a careful observer will note that Saskatchewan places 3rd in that category, nor is it a guarantee of success, with Osgoode, located just outside of downtown Toronto, placing 12th.
Finally, the law school operates a Career Development Office (CDO) which helps students who are seeking out articling positions, clerkships, permanent or summer jobs, and other law-related employment. The CDO also assists with résumé writing when required, general career counseling and information on graduate legal studies or scholarships. The CDO makes an effort to survey law firms in most provinces annually, to assist with career development seminars and of course, hosts on-campus interview days. Finally, the CDO helps organize articling receptions (which are hosted by alumni) in major cities to introduce students to practicing lawyers. All of these services help to assist Dalhousie graduates in finding the best employment possible.
For International (and U.S.) students:
Please note that many provinces requiring articling from law students before they may take the bar. This basically is an apprenticeship program where you work at a firm under the supervision of a trained attorney for a period, normally around a year. Depending on the province you wish to work in, it is necessary to consult with the local society for that province. In the province of Nova Scotia, the requirement for articling is 12 months (1 year), during which a Bar Admission Course is also taken. You can find out more here: http://www.nsbs.org/articling.php.
Dalhousie Law School is the best law school in Atlantic Canada, and in the top tier of schools nationwide. The excellent reputation it has accumulated over its history allows its students healthy career prospects in the field of law, particularly in Atlantic Canada. It is a strong choice for someone wishing to pursue legal education at a proud and distinguished school. The quality of life is good, the facilities are solid and the education is great. A degree from Dalhousie Law School is a good start to your legal career.
Contact Information – General Inquiries
Dalhousie Law School
Contact Information - Admissions
Estimated 2008-2009 Domestic Tuition: $12,464.00
Estimated 2008-2009 International Tuition: Unknown.
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