Working in Cali: Canadian JD, American LLM?

Mediana
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Aug 19, 2015 10:23 pm

Working in Cali: Canadian JD, American LLM?

Postby Mediana » Wed Aug 19, 2015 11:17 pm

Hi all,

I am a long time lurker on TLS' forums, but just recently decided to register and post a question.

Anyway, I recently graduated from UBC with a BA in International Relations (CGPA 3.8 ) and decided to spend the summer doing a part-time, legal internship abroad to help me determine whether I would enjoy working in a legal setting prior to committing to law school. I'm currently working in a small office in the San Francisco Bay Area and have found the experience surprisingly interesting/rewarding: I could definitely see myself doing this as a career. I am also presently pursuing LSAT prep with the goal of taking the LSAT in December (I believe this to be a good strategy since the part-time work commitment keeps me on my toes).

The issue is this: I am completely in love with California and would love to work in the Bay Area some day as an in-house attorney (hopefully). However, the cost of tuition to attend law school in the States is much, much greater than in Canada and, frankly, probably a bit too rich for my blood (not to mention the relative risks associated with trying to find employment in an overly saturated market)... I believe with a good deal of effort, I would be able to get into UBC's JD program (which is more affordable for me), but I believe that completing a Canadian law degree would limit me to practicing as an attorney in Canada (and thus not realize my dream of eventually living and working in California).

Recently, I've been doing research into LLM programs at T14 American law schools and was wondering if a decision to complete the LLM postgraduate degree at a place like UC Berkeley or Stanford could provide me with networking opportunities that could help me locate a job after the one year-program ended? Also, I am aware that I would have to take the California Bar exam prior to working in California, but would I even be eligible to sit for the bar given that I hold a Canadian JD...?

I know this perhaps shouldn't be a priority at this time and that I ought to "just focus on LSAT prep", but I'd just like to know whether I ought to consider applying to American law schools for my JD? TL;DR: Do you need to go to a US law school to practice law in the states and, if so, can a Canadian JD with an American LLM (post-doc) practice as an attorney in the state of California?

Many thanks!

jhett
Posts: 179
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Re: Working in Cali: Canadian JD, American LLM?

Postby jhett » Thu Aug 20, 2015 9:59 am

I'm a UBC grad, went to law school in the US, worked for a firm in California, and now am practicing in DC, so I can try to tackle your questions.

I believe Canadian law school graduates can take a US bar exam - but the regulations vary by state, so you'll need to check. You can register yourself and study off bar prep material. However, there are some big differences between Canadian and US law which will make it more difficult. Also, in California you may need to take the first year law student exam (the "baby bar") if you do not attend a California or ABA accredited school.

Here are your options:

1. Go to law school in Canada and try to get hired in the US without a LLM
This route will probably not land you in California unfortunately. UBC Law is not well known in the US, and probably could only get you as far as Seattle. The only law schools in Canada that US law firms hire from directly are UofT and McGill, and usually its only for New York offices.

2. 1. Go to law school in Canada and get a US LLM
The LLM is mostly a useless degree, except maybe for tax. It will help you become familiar with US law and with qualifying for and taking the bar, but most employers will not care about it. Most hiring at US law firms happen during the 2L and 3L year, so coming in for a 1 year LLM program makes for a shortened time period to hunt for jobs. In my opinion, doing a LLM is basically paying a lot of money to delay your earning potential by one year.

3. Go to law school in the US
If you go this route, I suggest you get a large scholarship to go to a good school (preferably T14, plus UCLA/USC). It doesn't have to be in California, but it sure helps. This means you'll need a high LSAT and GPA (which you seem to have). This is what I did and I graduated with very little debt.

4. Go to law school in Canada, practice in Canada for a while, and then try moving down
This depends on the type of work you want to do. For example, if the work is transactional (i.e. deals, international or cross-border issues), then it'll be easier than if you want to do litigation. However, no guarantees here.

As you can see, I'm a fan of option 3. Let me know if you have any other questions - glad to answer them.

BCgirl
Posts: 26
Joined: Thu Aug 13, 2015 5:37 pm

Re: Working in Cali: Canadian JD, American LLM?

Postby BCgirl » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:12 am

Fellow UBC grad here. I did step 3. A couple things you have to be aware of with this option:

1. School in the US is expensive, law school in particular, and all states are "out-of-state" tuition for you.

2. If you are on a F-1 Student visa, which you likely will be, you may not be eligible for many federal opportunities, including clerkships, which are reserved for US citizens/residents.

3. If you are on a F-1 Student visa, you need to deal with the irritating (and expensive) process that is pre-completion OPT. Basically, working during the summers as a law student is essential in getting hands-on-experience for your resume (and potentially a post-grad job). Besides you need the money. As a foreign student, you will need work authorization. Under the OPT option, you get 12 months total to work in your field of study, you can do it in blocks as you choose. The kickers are 1. You can't work in anything but law-related fields, 2. You have to apply each time up to 3 months in advance, 3. It costs $380.00 to apply each time.

Mediana
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Aug 19, 2015 10:23 pm

Re: Working in Cali: Canadian JD, American LLM?

Postby Mediana » Fri Sep 11, 2015 12:46 am

Hey there!

Thanks so much for your replies, they've been very helpful! Also, I apologies for following up so late - things have been rather hectic on my end...

With that said, I had several more questions for you (if you wouldn't mind answering):

1. What are the prospects of finding work in small/mid-sized law firms upon completion of a T14 law school? Right now, I have my sights set on UC Berkeley (shooting high, I know)... Incidentally, I found that the majority of Berkeley Law's graduating class found work at big law firms? Is that because there just weren't as many attorney positions at small/mid-sized firms/law offices or was it a matter of necessity (paying off their loans)? I should note that I keep referencing T14 schools since I've been told that the probability of securing work post-grad from these schools is more likely... However, again, I am not sure what the case is for small/mid-sized law firms and whether a T14 ranking should be a valid consideration if my goal is to ultimately not work in big law - I should clarify that I bring up working at a small/mid-sized firm because I've been told such legal careers carry a decent salary (80k/year) with a good work-life balance which I would prefer over the kind of lifestyle associated with big law career tracks.

2. jhett, one of the options you noted (option 4) was to complete my legal studies in Canada, go work for a few years and then try and come to California. Arguably, finding work as an attorney under those circumstances would be difficult for the reasons you outlined in your post, however, how transferable would any skills I pick up working as a Canadian attorney be back here? Specifically, I'm wondering how feasible it would be to try and find work outside of the position of attorney (or even the legal field for that matter) with the kind of skills one can acquire with an education from a good Canadian law school like UBC or UofT? I would just add that I've gotten in touch with both since my last post and found out they waive certain MBA prerequisites for candidates who are able to get into their law school programs, effectively allowing one a fast-track towards pursuing a JD/MBA. In light of that information, would you say that might enhance the skills one can potentially gain and thus increases one's chances of finding employment in the States (California) at some point down the road (again, in a career that is not necessarily law-related)? I just want to keep my options open and the JD/MBA option seems enticing given my ambitions of acquiring more skills/ career flexibility...

Please write me back when you guys can (also any feedback from new posters is welcome)! Thanks in advance!

jhett
Posts: 179
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Re: Working in Cali: Canadian JD, American LLM?

Postby jhett » Sun Sep 13, 2015 9:38 am

Mediana wrote:1. What are the prospects of finding work in small/mid-sized law firms upon completion of a T14 law school? Right now, I have my sights set on UC Berkeley (shooting high, I know)... Incidentally, I found that the majority of Berkeley Law's graduating class found work at big law firms? Is that because there just weren't as many attorney positions at small/mid-sized firms/law offices or was it a matter of necessity (paying off their loans)? I should note that I keep referencing T14 schools since I've been told that the probability of securing work post-grad from these schools is more likely... However, again, I am not sure what the case is for small/mid-sized law firms and whether a T14 ranking should be a valid consideration if my goal is to ultimately not work in big law - I should clarify that I bring up working at a small/mid-sized firm because I've been told such legal careers carry a decent salary (80k/year) with a good work-life balance which I would prefer over the kind of lifestyle associated with big law career tracks.


The majority of students at T14 schools, including Berkeley, are aiming for biglaw because it's the most lucrative and easiest way to jumpstart a legal career (and pay off their debts). T14 students don't usually pay small/mid-size law firms much attention because they have their sights set on biglaw. So the smaller firms (excluding the ultra-selective small firms) would love getting applicants like you that are truly interested in their firm (as opposed to choosing them only because they couldn't get biglaw). So I think you have a very good shot at approaching the small to mid-size firms you want from Berkeley.

I would say that cost effectiveness is almost as important as the ranking of the school. So if you were able to get full or near full scholarships from UC Davis or Hastings but nothing from Berkeley, they may be good alternatives, especially if you aren't gunning for biglaw.

One caveat is that sometimes small and mid-size firms can make you work just as hard as biglaw, except you don't get paid as much. So you need to choose wisely, and do more research than if you were to default to biglaw.

Mediana wrote:2. jhett, one of the options you noted (option 4) was to complete my legal studies in Canada, go work for a few years and then try and come to California. Arguably, finding work as an attorney under those circumstances would be difficult for the reasons you outlined in your post, however, how transferable would any skills I pick up working as a Canadian attorney be back here? Specifically, I'm wondering how feasible it would be to try and find work outside of the position of attorney (or even the legal field for that matter) with the kind of skills one can acquire with an education from a good Canadian law school like UBC or UofT? I would just add that I've gotten in touch with both since my last post and found out they waive certain MBA prerequisites for candidates who are able to get into their law school programs, effectively allowing one a fast-track towards pursuing a JD/MBA. In light of that information, would you say that might enhance the skills one can potentially gain and thus increases one's chances of finding employment in the States (California) at some point down the road (again, in a career that is not necessarily law-related)? I just want to keep my options open and the JD/MBA option seems enticing given my ambitions of acquiring more skills/ career flexibility...


This option really depends on what type of law or job you want to do, which you haven't revealed. What type of work were you doing for the firm you worked for in SF, or what type of work did the firm do in general? Is that the type of work you want to continue doing?

Adding the MBA is not a sure-fire way of becoming more employable in the US, but it helps more than it hinders. I would consider it if it doesn't add too much to the cost of the regular JD program.

If you are considering an MBA, it sounds like you are interested in the business side of things, which would allow you to pick up some transferable skills, especially if you deal with cross-border issues. For example, I had a friend graduate from UBC Law and did tax law advising in a Big 4 accounting firm in Vancouver. She did a lot of US cross-border work and she was able to transfer to the New York office to practice law there. Also, the Bay Area is big on tech so if you have experience working in or with tech companies (e.g. start-ups, IPOs, financing, VC, IP, etc.) then you have a better chance of moving over. Again though, without details about what kind of work you want to do, it's hard to gauge your possibilities.

I think option 4 works best if you aren't dead set on moving to the US and want to minimize risk. You can work and build your career in Canada, position yourself to be attractive to US firms/companies, and look for opportunities to move down. But you also have to be OK with the possibility that it may never happen and you'll remain in Canada.




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