Canadian Considering Law School in the U.S.A.: An Ontario Lawyer's Perspective on American Law School - Part 1
This blog entry is about my experience in having attended an American law school and then returning to practice law as an Ontario personal injury lawyer. I decided to post this because I am frequently asked about American law school by Canadian university students considering a law school in the United States. My perspective on the subject is limited to experience at one American law school; namely, Michigan State University College of Law (MSU Law). I have never attended law school in Canada. As such, I cannot offer any comparisons between Canadian and American law school. I did, however, attend and graduate from a Canadian University having completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto (U of T). I can say with absolute certainty that I had great experiences both in undergrad at U of T, and in law school at MSU Law. If given the chance to go back, I would still attend U of T for undergrad and MSU Law for law school. I would also give both the best of reviews.
Why Consider a Law School Outside of Canada?
If you are Canadian, or live in Canada, you no doubt love this country. It is your home, and probably the place where family and friends are. So why would you ever want to leave Canada and go to law school in the U.S.?
There are countless reasons why someone might consider attending law school outside of their province or even their country. One common reason I have heard from others is attributed to their desire to attend a particular law school - usually this is Ivey Leage (think Harvard or Yale) or a law school that brings significant opportunities in a particular area of law (international law or ip law for instance). Another big reason for choosing a law school outside Canada may be the desire to live in another city or country and gain more than academic experience. Sometimes, the decision to look beyond the border is pragmatic as in the circumstances where there are no admission letters to law schools in your home province so a determined individual will look elsewhere. Whatever your reason, it is your own.
For me, there were several reasons, but the one that stands out most was the desire to experience life in the U.S. with a view of possibly moving to the U.S. on a permanent basis. As a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, I had the option of living in either country and family on both sides of the border. Ultimately, I did in fact move to the United States, and I practiced law in Florida before returning to Ontario. That may the subject of another blog someday. Back to the point I was trying to make - I was completing a four year BA degree at the University of Toronto and had my mind set on becoming a lawyer. I thought that attending law school in the U.S. would be exciting. I had never lived away from home, and I firugred that, as a student, I would have an opportunity to test the waters before making any drastic decisions.
Deciding on the Law School to Attend
Choosing a law school is a major decision and you should select carefully. I made my decision over ten years ago, so I can't remember all of the factors that went into my decision to choose MSU Law. Some important things to consider might include the following:
- law school faculty and reputation, especially in area of law you are interested in;
- cost of attendance;
- will the education be applicable to jurisdiction in which you utimately want to practice;
- financial aid, scholarship and grants availability;
- reputation of law school organizations such as Law Review, Moot Court etc.
There will be other considerations as well, but the above-listed come to mind at the moment.
After going through my own set of considerations, including the above, I applied to only two American law schools, both located in my mother's home state of Michigan. If I was going to be away from home for three years, I still wanted to be close to family and friends. I wanted to be able to visit family on weekends, and be close enough so that family and friends might decide to visit me. The Michigan border is less than 4 hours away from Toronto and I had family in Michigan as well.
MSU Law was also attractive because it was part of Michigan State University - that is, a Big 10 University with a national reputation. Attending a nationally recognized university was important to me because I didn't want to be an outsider in a small regional university that only attracted locals. I also wanted to be sure that prospective employers, whether in the U.S. or Canada had at least some familiarity with the law school I attended. As it turned out, one of the best qualities of MSU Law was the fact that students came from everywhere (all over the U.S., Canada and elsewhere) and brought rich and diverse views. It was also nice to meet and become friends with people with varying backgrounds and experiences.
After completing the law school applications, the folks at Michigan State University College of Law made my decision easier by offering me a full tuitition scholarship. Finances were important to me and the scholarship was significant. The costs of attending law school can be expensive, both with respect to tuition and books and living expenses. Being away from home certainly increases the expense of attending law school.
I was also invitied to the beautiful East Lansing campus for a tour of the law school led by faculty and students. During my visit to East Lansing, I learned more about the faculty, student body, and the programs available at MSU Law. Law school is much more than the courses; you should also consider whether the law school has joint degree programs, opportunities for concentrations is specialiazed areas of law, and student programs like the law review, journals and moot court board.
For Canadian students that may want to return to practice law in Canada, it may be beneficial to consider opportunities for joint degrees with Canadian and U.S. law schools. Michigan State University, for instance, offers a joint degree program with the University of Ottawa. I did not participate in the joint degree program, but it is probably wothwhile if you are likely to return to Canada following law school.
to be continued. . .