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Canada: McGill University Faculty of Law
By Matthew G. Scott, published August 2009, last updated by TLS April 2010
Note: McGill University is unique among Canadian Law Schools in that substantial knowledge of English and French is required to be successful in its program. Students are advised that substantial abilities in reading and aural comprehension of French are required to be admitted. To assist students in determining whether they would be capable of handling the language rigors of the program, McGill has developed a “self-assessment” questionnaire, which can be found here: http://www.mcgill.ca/files/law-admissions/French_Self_Assessment.doc.
It is strongly advised that you complete this self-assessment questionnaire before considering McGill as a possibility for Law School. According to McGill, a score of 250+ on the questionnaire indicates an ability to succeed at McGill, a score of 200-250 indicates you probably could succeed, but may need an intensive course in French before beginning your studies, while a score below 200 indicates an inability to succeed in their program. It is also advisable to review a portion of the decision in Egan v. Canada, found here: http://www.mcgill.ca/files/law-admissions/Egan-vs-Canada-excerpts.pdf. This excerpt offers the chance to read the ruling in French, and then in English to evaluate your comprehension skill.
McGill University’s Faculty of Law is one of the oldest such faculties in Canada, established 19 years before confederation, in 1848. Since its inception, it has remained at the vanguard of legal education and scholarship, both at home and abroad. Its alumni can count among its members Prime Ministers and Supreme Court Justices. It is located in the heart of downtown Montreal, on the slopes of Mount Royal, and adjacent to McGill University’s main campus.
This location, in the largest city in Québec, has had a dramatic impact on its legal program. McGill University graduates emerge with a degree that allows them to practice not only in the civil law systems in Québec, inherited from the French ancestry of the province, but also in the common law provinces that make up the remainder of the country.
In this, it can be said that the legal education is marked by a mutually sustaining relationship between the Western world’s two major legal traditions. The education recognizes that the law comes from a broad range of sources, and thus it is predicated on a study of law as an intellectual inquiry that is inherently “transsytemic.” Both legal systems are taught alongside topics in public law, in both French and English, from the very first days of the course of study. In this, McGill University’s Faculty of Law seeks to function as a pragmatic and scholarly response to the law in a changing world.
For International (and U.S.) students:
The degrees that are granted from McGill University’s Faculty of Law are an LL.B and a BCL. Both degrees are undergraduate law degrees, in common law (LL.B) and civil law (BCL). Within Canada, an LL.B is functionally equivalent to a J.D., except that a J.D. requires its students have a degree to enroll in the program, whereas an LL.B only requires at least two years of post-secondary education before enrolling. There is no difference in the ability to take the bar within English Canada, New York and Massachusetts. The BCL on the other hand, offers an opportunity to practice in Québec, whereas a J.D. would not be sufficient.
*NOTE: It is important to note that while the LSAT is not required for admission to McGill University’s Faculty of Law, if you choose to take the LSAT examination, you must report your score.
Admission at McGill University’s Faculty of Law is highly competitive, because of the high number of applications received for such a small number of first year spots. The admissions committee seeks to admit applicants whom they feel will be best suited to studying law in McGill’s uniquely comparative and bilingual environment. To do this, they base their evaluation on a relatively holistic assessment of the candidate’s academic record, linguistic abilities, personal statement, extracurricular and community activities, and letters of references. The substantial exposure to French materials requires that applicants demonstrate significant reading and comprehension abilities in this language.
Failing to demonstrate these credentials can result in many otherwise strong applicants being turned away. In 2007, the candidates offered admission had a median UGPA of 83% and a median LSAT of 160. Candidates should also consider that high GPA splitters are more competitive than high LSAT splitters at McGill University Faculty of Law. The table at the bottom of this article illustrates this.
Beyond the raw numbers, the Faculty of Law seeks to admit students with high intellectual capacity, which have a curiosity about the law, and demonstrate social commitment, political insight, leadership, an ability to work in teams, maturity and the potential for growth through opportunity and adversity. Furthermore, they seek to admit students which will create a socially diverse learning community, drawn from across Canada, with an equal representation of aspirations, backgrounds and life experiences.
For International (or U.S.) students:
Unlike many U.S. schools, where the LSAT is the most important measure of admissions, GPA plays a substantial role in the prospective students chances at being admitted to McGill. A table on the Law School Admissions Council’s Guide to Canadian Law Schools illustrates that while an LSAT score of 75th-99th and GPA of A- or better have a good chance of admission, students with grades below a B+ range tend to find admission unlikely regardless of GPA, while comparatively, students with an LSAT as low as the 40th percentile may find admission possible (albeit not likely), with a sufficiently high GPA.
Despite being one of the premier legal institutions in Canada, McGill University’s Faculty of Law remains one of the least expensive law schools in the country to attend. Cost of tuition for Québec residents is a mere $3,625.42, which is less than many regular undergraduate programs in other provinces. For Canadians who are not from Québec, tuition is doubled, costing $7,158.22 to attend the school. However, it is worth noting that many Canadian law schools have tuitions that are almost twice this, with Toronto (for example) being three times more expensive.
Other than the cost of tuition and fees, there are other costs that students should be aware of when planning their budget. Like most law schools, McGill advises that the average student will spend about $1,000 per annum on books, on top of tuition fees. Above and beyond this,
Given the high quality of the institution, and comparative low cost, a degree from McGill University’s Faculty of Law is an excellent investment.
For International (or U.S.) students:
McGill University Faculty of Law is not as great of a value for international students as domestic students, at $22,162.12.
Financing Your Education:
Financing your legal education can be difficult, no matter where you choose to attend school. That said, McGill University Faculty of Law does offer a healthy program of scholarships from the Faculty of Law. All applicants are automatically considered for these entrance scholarships and do not need to apply for them individually, making it much easier to receive financial assistance. For students who have not yet undergone University studies (an incredible minority), it is possible to apply for McGill University Entrance Scholarships. Most students will not qualify for this.
Additionally, McGill University does offer a needs based Entrance Financial Aid Program. This program is designed to help students who come from modest income families and thus require assistance in order to enable them to attend McGill University. As financial need is the primary criterion in the selection of award recipients, it is expected that students will apply for government student aid where applicable. Different provinces have differing standards, so prospective students should review the Student Financial Aid section of the McGill University website, found here: http://www.mcgill.ca/studentaid/awards/prospective/.
For International (and U.S.) students:
Students coming from the United States should refer to the U.S. Student Loans section (found here: http://www.mcgill.ca/studentaid/government/us/) for information regarding financial assistance. In addition, U.S. students who wish to apply for Entrance Financial Aid from the University must submit a CSS Profile (http://www.collegeboard.com/student/pay/scholarships-and-aid/8374.html/). International students coming from countries other than the United States are advised to refer to the Financial Aid for International Students section which contains information particularly suited to their situation, available here: http://www.mcgill.ca/internationalstudents/financial/.
Studying law at McGill University Faculty of Law is a unique experience. From the very beginning, students are exposed to both common law and civil law in a comparative and analytical context. The curriculum has been designed to integrate the two legal traditions, and in the process preparing students for a wide array of personal and professional opportunities in Canada and around the world.
Since both common and civil law are taught concurrently, students at McGill have much less choice in their curriculum then students at many of the common law only schools. During the first year of study, students are required to complete Civil Law Property, Constitutional Law, Contractual Obligations, Ex-Contractual Obligations/Torts, Foundations, Introductory Legal Research, and one of The Administrative Process, Criminal Law, Family Law or Public International Law. In their second year of study, students are required to take Advanced Civil Law Obligations, Advanced Common Law Obligations, Common Law Property, and a course titled “Legal Writing, Mooting & Advanced Legal Resolution.” Added to this, in either the second or third year, students must take Criminal Law and Judicial Institutions & Civil Procedure.
It doesn’t end there though, for students at McGill must also take what are referred to as “Complementary Courses”. These courses are basically lists of courses, in three different areas, which must be taken. The list features courses that are worth full value in that area, and other courses which only count as half credit towards the requirement. If you are curious about the lists of courses currently meeting the requirements of each area of complementary courses, you can review them on the McGill website (http://www.mcgill.ca/law-studies/undergrad-programs/bachelor/courses/), but for brevity sake, they are not reproduced here. That said, as a general idea, the three streams of complementary courses are: “Complementary Transsystemic and Civil Law Courses, Complementary Transsystemic and Common Law Courses, Complementary Human Rights and Social Diversity Courses. Additionally, students must take electives for their remaining 47 credits.
In addition to the course work, all students must fulfill the minimum writing requirement, which in some form is common to most Canadian Law Schools. At McGill, the standard is set by accomplishing one of three tasks. First, students may choose to write an essay in a two-credit or three-credit course where the essay constitutes no less than 75% of the final weight of grading in the course. Second, students may choose to write the term essay. Third, students may choose to write an article, note or comment of equivalent substance that is published or accepted by McGill Law Journal and approved by the Faculty Advisor of the Journal. In accomplishing one of these tasks, students will satisfy their writing requirement. Finally, it is important to note that students may not complete more than fifteen “non-course” credits, which include things such as Clerkships, Journal Positions, or Legal Clinics. Students may also only take six credits in a non-law field.
Other than degree requirements, the combined program also comes at a price in terms of the duration of the program as well. Students at McGill must complete 105 credits, which is normally taken over 7 semesters. In practice, this means that students complete the program in three and a half years the majority of the time. However, students may “accelerate” their program by taking summer courses and an extra course in their first year, allowing them to complete the program in three years as opposed to three and a half. This acceleration comes at its own price, by limiting access to small-enrollment courses by losing the fourth-year priority registration period, and potentially reducing your academic performance because of a heavy course load.
On the flipside of the coin, students may if they choose extend their program out to a full four years, but they must maintain a minimum of 12 credits per semester to maintain full time status. Additionally, students may not take more than 105 credits, even if that means you would take less than 12 credits in your final semester. If you plan to draw out your program to the full four years, careful planning is required to ensure you can maintain full time status throughout your studies. Students who do choose to extend their program can benefit from the opportunity to meet other commitments and being able to take advantage of all the opportunities available to law students, including exchanges. Further, generally speaking, a lighter course load may have a positive impact on academic success, which could have value on its own as well. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of the accelerating or delaying your program.
Dual Degree Programs:
McGill offers two joint degree programs for students interested in completing dual degrees. The first option is a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) with an integrated Bachelor of Civil Law/Bachelor of Laws (B.C.L/LL.B.). Students may expect to complete the joint program in four to five years. Additionally, students may enroll in a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) with integrated Bachelor of Civil Law/Bachelor of Laws (B.C.L./LL.B.). Students could expect to complete this program in three and a half to four years, but it ispossible to complete the program in three years if summer courses are taken. Please note that for both programs, students must be admitted to all relevant faculties, not just the law school.
Quality of Life:
Students at McGill University’s Faculty of Law can expect a fairly high quality of life. McGill is one of the world’s great universities, and is located at the heart of one of North America’s most beautiful, historic and appealing cities. Montreal is a city of 3.6 million people, renowned for its thriving arts and cultural scene. It has a vibrant nightlife, an old-world charm due to its historic architecture, and is set in a modern metropolis. It is one of the world’s great French cities.
More than that though, Montreal year round attracts festivals, such as the internationally acclaimed jazz, comedy and film festivals. It has 30 kilometers of underground pedestrian walkways and an extensive network of bicycle paths, in addition to a public transit system that is affordable and features 68 subway stations and 189 bus routes. The downtown McGill campus is also located right next to the beautiful Mount Royal Park, which features walking and jogging trails, skiing, cycling paths, winter skating rinks and other outdoor activities.
Furthermore, McGill’s population of approximately 24,000 undergraduate and 7,000 graduate students allows it to have over 150 student clubs which can appeal to all interests, from student newspapers to modern dance, debating to the McGill Choral Society. As an added benefit as well, while McGill is an English-language university, approximately 6,000 (or nearly 20% of its population) can claim French as their first language. This means English students have a wonderful opportunity to learn (or practice) French.
For law students in particular, there are several advantages as well. First, the law school features a diverse student body, with students coming in from Australia to Zimbabwe each year, not to mention 30-40 exchange students from leading schools around the world. There are also extensive support networks in place for first year students to help them adapt to the law school environment, and students in all years have an opportunity to sit as full voting members on the Faculty Council. Student perspectives are regularly considered.
On the lighter side of things, there also a variety of social, intellectual and athletic activities available. Every week Quid Novi publishes rants, philosophy, poetry, or all sorts of opinions, providing students with information on how the Faculty is doing in athletic competitions against the medical school or engineers. Further, there are Sports teams just for law students, weekly coffee houses on Thursday nights, “Skit Nite”, and a variety of clubs and associations to entertain you.
Lastly, when it is time to sit down and study, the beautiful campus offers a variety of options to do so. If you choose to head over to the library, you can expect it to be open 81.25 hours a week, find 180,000 volumes, 5 full time libraries, over 118,000 government documents, and access to all major Canadian, American and European electronic databases. The library also seats 359 students. The library also features The Peter Marshall Laing, QC Special Collections Room, which houses the Wainwright Collection of French law and other rare books. Students with a historical fascination will no doubt want to check out these collections.
No matter what you’re looking for, the quality of life at McGill University is outstanding and, probably second to none in Canada. At McGill University, there is almost certainly something for everyone.
*Note: The only possible exception to this, is for students who are uncomfortable with French. Although Montréal is mostly a bilingual city, there is still a lot of French, and you are still living in a French province. It is important to keep this in mind. However, if the prospect of French bothers you, it is unlikely McGill University Faculty of Law would be a good fit anyway.
Students graduating from McGill University Faculty of Law can expect to benefit from strong employment prospects across Canada and around the world. A degree from McGill remains internationally recognized as being from a world class institution. To aid students in finding these jobs, the Faculty offers a fully functional Career Development Office (CDO) which operates under the leadership of a McGill Law graduate and member of the Bar of Quebec. The CDO provides students with information and counseling on career opportunities within and beyond the practice of law. The CDO hopes that in doing so, its students and graduates will be able to make informed decisions about their career paths.
To this end, the CDO is available not only for individual counseling for students, but also to help organize major on campus events, such as Common Law, Civil Law, Graduate Studies and Academic Career and Public Interest Days. The CDO also manages the schools OCI (On Campus Interview) program where firms from Toronto, New York and Boston come down and conduct interviews at McGill every year. The CDO also organizes a series of seminars designed for presenting the range of career opportunities available to McGill law graduates. Finally, there are also workshops on effective resume writing, interview skills and mock interview programs, as well as the Legal Employment Handbook.
For students who wish to pursue court clerkships or graduate work in law, the Faculty is fully supportive as well. In fact, the CDO recently published its 2nd Edition of the Graduate Law Students’ Handbook. Each year, students completing their studies are accepted into graduate programs at major U.S. and English law schools such as Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Berkeley, Oxford and Cambridge, as well as major European schools like Paris, Strasbourg, and Florence. There is also a tremendous success rate for McGill students in the highly selective Supreme Court Clerkship program, in fact, in 2007; no fewer than 8 of the Supreme Court’s 27 clerks will be McGill graduates. No matter what path you choose to take, McGill’s CDO will be there to help you along the way.
For International (and U.S.) students:
Please note that for most provinces, it is necessary to complete your “Articles” before you can take the bar (i.e: In Ontario, this is a 10 month period where you basically are an apprentice after law school). Depending on where you decide to practice, each province will have their own regulations and standards. The “Barreau du Québec” (the Quebec Bar in English), has its own guidelines, which can be found here: http://www.barreau.qc.ca/?Langue=en.
McGill University’s Faculty of Law is one of the most selective law schools in Canada. Its sterling academic reputation, proud and distinguished history, and graduate quality have created excellent career prospects for its students. If you wish to practice law anywhere in Canada, it is one of the very best choices for your legal education. The quality of life is beyond reproach, the facilities are superb, and the education is world class. A degree from McGill University’s Faculty of Law is an incredible start to a lengthy legal career.
*Note: Fees include Tuition, Society & Other Fees, Student Services/Athletics & Recreation, Copyright Fee, Information Technology Charge & SSMU Health & Dental Insurance. To see the breakdown, please go here: http://www.mcgill.ca/law-admissions/undergraduates/costs/
2009-2010 Québec Student Fees: $3,625.42
Application Deadline: November 30th
L = Acceptance Likely
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