Hey Demon family, Francesca here. There’s lots of information out there about applying to law schools in the US. How much of it applies to Canadian schools? As a Canadian student, I wondered about this when I studied with the Demon. Here’s what you need to know about applying to law school in Canada.
How do Canadian and American law schools differ?
Price: One major difference is that law school tuition in Canada is about half the full price of most American law schools (friendly reminder: don’t pay that). The flip side is that Canadian schools don’t offer as many scholarships—more on this later.
Application process: Canadian law schools don’t use LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service. Most schools have their own admissions portals. If you’re applying in Ontario (University of Toronto, Osgoode, or Queen’s, for example), there is a centralized application system called OLSAS. The application requirements in Canada are similar to those in America. Generally, you need to submit your undergraduate transcript, LSAT score(s), letters of recommendation, and personal statement. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Most law schools in Canada don’t accept the GRE as a substitute for the LSAT.
- Quebec law schools don’t require the LSAT. But if you’ve taken it, they will consider your score(s), for better or worse.
- Some schools have language requirements. If you want to go to law school in Quebec, you must be able to speak French.
- Each school has specific essay guidelines. Some schools specify word limits, formatting requirements, and even guidelines about structure and content.
- Applicants fall into different categories. These include general, international, transfer, Indigenous, access, joint-degree, and part-time applicants. Make sure you’re providing the right documents for your category.
- Some schools may also request corroborative documents, resume, evidence of eligibility, letters of good standing, and more.
TL;DR: Read the guidelines on each school’s website!
Classes and student life: Like in the US, many law schools in Canada use long final exams worth 100% of your grade, particularly in your 1L year. Grades for most classes are determined on a bell curve. Your 1L courses will be mostly predetermined, while your 2L and 3L years will allow more flexibility and electives. The content of these courses obviously differs from the content of courses in the US: Canadian law schools teach Canadian law. If you want to practice law in the US, you should study law in the US. There are ways to transfer from one country to another, but this often involves another course and/or another bar exam. The process and regulations vary depending on the province/state you are leaving and the one you’re entering. Moving between provinces is much easier than moving between countries—more on this below.
Canadian and American law schools alike usually offer law clinic experiences. They also have Black Law Students’ Associations and other diversity groups, student journals and law reviews, degree specializations (like Indigenous law), and other extracurricular opportunities. Class sizes can be smaller than those of big US schools, but student life is usually comparable.
Rankings: Canadian law schools are all of similar educational quality and reputation in the job market. American law schools, on the other hand, vary much more in terms of the opportunities they will offer you. Macleans, the Canadian equivalent of US News & World Report, offers a much-discussed ranking of Canadian law schools, but don’t give this too much weight. Consider the difference between the highest- and lowest-ranked schools in each country. In the US, the difference between Yale and Willamette University College of Law is life-changing. (Have you heard of Willamette? If so, be honest, are you from Salem?) In Canada, the difference between the University of Toronto and the University of Victoria is unremarkable. They both have excellent programs. They have comparable employment outcomes. As we’ll discuss below, you should go to school where you want to practice.
How does Ben and Nathan’s usual advice apply to Canadian students?
Let’s look at some of the Demon’s most crucial pieces of advice and consider the extent to which they apply to Canadian law school applicants.
Don’t pay for law school—not applicable
It’s pretty rare to get a merit-based full-ride scholarship to law school in Canada. Don’t go into the application process with this expectation. You can, however, get a great scholarship, and some schools offer significant financial assistance in 2L or 3L even if you didn’t get any in 1L. Even though tuition is lower in Canada than in the US, 10–30k a year still isn’t cheap. Just like in the US, a better LSAT and GPA in Canada means better scholarship offers. Most law schools offer need-based bursaries, which require a separate application. Canada’s tuition assistance model is, in this way, similar to that of Harvard, Yale, or Stanford.
Apply in September or don’t apply—not applicable
The deadlines to apply to Canadian schools are much earlier (school-specific details can be found on our Canadian law school comparison spreadsheet), and many admissions offices don’t begin their review process until after the deadline. The most important thing is to follow the guidelines given to you by the school.
Take the LSAT as many times as it takes to get your best possible score—applicable in some cases
Different schools have different policies for interpreting multiple LSAT scores. Some look only at the highest score (U of T and Queen’s are examples). Others (like McGill) take an average of your scores. So you should think twice before taking the test on a whim. Again, this information will be on each school’s website.
Go to school where you want to practice—generally applicable
No matter which country you’re in, law school will help you build your professional network. Build this network in the region where you hope to practice, as local connections will help you find job opportunities.
Canadian law schools also gear their curriculum toward helping students be called to the provincial bar. If you go to law school in Nova Scotia, you will be more familiar with the legislation and processes that show up on the Nova Scotia bar than will someone who went to school in Saskatchewan. Many provincial bar societies offer province-specific prep courses instead of a bar exam. You can choose which bar exam or course you want to take after graduation. You can find more information on the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education website, on the employment pages of law schools, or on the website of the law society of the province in which you’re interested. These considerations don’t preclude you from going to another province to article or to write the bar exam, but you may need to brush up on specific provincial legislation and case law.
If you’re a practicing lawyer in one province and want to transfer to another, you can apply for permanent mobility under the National Mobility Act (or Territorial Mobility Act if you’re in the Northwest Territories). Transferring to or from Quebec practice is more challenging because Quebec law is based on the Napoleonic Civil Law tradition rather than on the British Common Law tradition. The Interjurisdictional Practice Protocol exists to govern these transfers.
Get the best LSAT score you can—100% applicable
The LSAT is a major component of your application in Canada, just as it is in the US. Many Canadian schools are transparent about the weight attached to each component of your application, and unsurprisingly, the LSAT always carries a lot of weight. For instance, at UVic, your GPA and LSAT are each weighted at 50%, and your personal statement “may also be taken into account.” This doesn’t mean you should neglect your personal statement, but it does mean that if your undergraduate GPA is out of your control at this point, knocking your LSAT out of the park is the best way to increase your chances of admission. A strong LSAT score will also greatly increase your chances of getting a merit-based scholarship.
Still have questions?
If you’re looking for specific information about a school or program, each law school has a comprehensive admissions page on their website. Most also have FAQ pages. If you can’t find an answer to your question, consider asking the admissions office directly. This is the start of your relationship with the people who will be reading your file, so remember to be professional and thoughtful in your correspondence.
By and large, if you find a great resource for American law school admissions information, it’ll apply to Canadian schools, as well. If you’re unsure, reach out to one of our Canadian teachers for more information. I’m firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve also written up a spreadsheet comparing all the different law schools in Canada in terms of tuition, stats, deadlines, and more! We did the research so you don’t have to.
Special thanks to our teacher and tutor Michael Poirier for compiling many of the resources in this article. Hope to see you in the study group!