Lawyers are central figures in the life of a democratic country. To become a lawyer is to take part in shaping the life of a nation and its people. Lawyers deal with major court cases and minor traffic disputes, complex corporate mergers, and straightforward real estate transactions. They work independently, either with partners or alone in private practice. Increasingly, they work for industry, small businesses, government agencies, international organizations, private trade associations, public interest groups, legal aid offices, and universities. They represent both the wealthy and the impoverished, the helpless and the powerful. Judges in Canada are drawn exclusively from the ranks of Canada’s lawyers.
Law practice is so diverse that no one can describe what the “typical” lawyer does. Each lawyer works with different clients and different legal problems. Ordinarily, certain basic legal skills are required of all lawyers. They must know how to
- analyze legal issues in light of the existing state of the law, the direction in which the law is headed, and the relevant policy considerations;
- synthesize information;
- advocate the views of groups and individuals within the context of the legal system;
- give intelligent counsel on the law’s requirements;
- write and speak clearly; and
- negotiate effectively.
The easiest career choice is the one that merges an enriching professional life with a person’s own basic interests. Law is a rewarding field in which to work, but it is not a profession that is right for everyone. For a significant number of people, law study offers an opportunity to develop skills and an understanding of our world that are applicable in a variety of occupations. For many, however, law offers opportunities for service to society that other careers cannot provide.
You may find the bibliography (PDF) a useful source for reading material as you pursue your interest in a legal education.
Because the number of practicing lawyers in Canada continues to increase, it is becoming more difficult for recent graduates to find jobs in some fields in certain parts of the country. Opportunities will vary from locality to locality and among legal disciplines. Future lawyers may have to devote considerable time and energy to secure a first job that they consider acceptable. Competition for certain positions will continue to be intense, while opportunities in other fields may expand.
Future demand for people with legal training is almost impossible to predict. Demand for legal services is influenced by the state of the economy not only in Canada, but globally. Nevertheless, lawyers with strong academic credentials will continue to obtain desirable positions.
The legal profession itself is in the process of adapting to an evolving market for legal services by encouraging lawyers to embrace new technologies and new skill sets, while at the same time maintaining their traditional ideals of professionalism. In addition, certain communities within the country—particularly nonmetropolitan areas—continue to be underrepresented by lawyers. Prospective law students should evaluate their personal career goals, including geographic preferences and the possibility of public service, when considering the legal job market and their potential participation in it.
Preparing for Law School
Students interested in legal study should make the most of their undergraduate education. A university education stands on its own merits as preparation for a lifetime of active involvement in a diverse and changing society.
Acquire a Well-Balanced Education
While no single curricular path is the ideal preparation for law school, you should choose courses that sharpen analytical reasoning and writing skills. Law schools prefer students who can think, read and write well, and who have some understanding of what shapes human experiences. This understanding includes an appreciation for the wide variety of value systems that underlie human experience. You can acquire these attributes in any number of college courses, whether in the humanities, the social sciences, philosophy, or the natural sciences. Some schools may place greater emphasis on certain backgrounds than others; consult with the individual schools for additional information.
Unlike the premedical curriculum that contains specific courses, some obligatory, there is no recommended set of prelaw courses. Law schools prefer that you reserve your legal study for law school and fill your undergraduate curriculum with broad, diverse, and challenging courses. Prelaw courses that introduce you to broad legal principles may present you with enough information to decide whether you want to continue with a legal education, but they are rarely taught with the same depth and rigor as actual law courses. A prelaw curriculum that is designed to encompass a broad array of liberal arts courses, however, can be excellent preparation for law school. Be sure you know precisely what is meant by “prelaw” when choosing your undergraduate course of study.
Maintain a Rigorous Courseload
High academic standards are important when selecting undergraduate courses. The range of acceptable majors is broad; the quality of the education is most important. Acquire skills that enable you to think critically, reason logically, and speak and write effectively. Writing skills are particularly important. Undergraduate programs should reveal your capacity to perform well at an academically rigorous level. An undergraduate career that is narrow, unchallenging, or vocationally oriented is not the best preparation for law school.
Research the Law Schools
Early research about the programs and requirements of individual law schools will simplify the application process for you. In deciding whether to admit you, law schools will consider your LSAT score(s), transcripts of your undergraduate coursework, and other information about you. Law schools weigh admission factors differently, and it will be helpful to know what’s important to schools as you apply.
For information about the Canadian common-law law schools, you may wish to:
- Study and compare the admission information provided by the law schools on this website.
- Visit the websites of Canadian LSAC-member law schools.
- Obtain and read the calendar or bulletin of each law school that interests you. An undergraduate advisor or university library may already have one or more on file for each law school; however, be sure their editions are current.
- Write to the school’s admission office for further information if the bulletin does not adequately cover a particular concern.
- Talk with a representative of the school. These meetings are more fruitful if you have studied the school’s calendar.
- Visit the school if you have the opportunity. You can learn a great deal from looking at the library facilities, talking with students and faculty, and visiting classes.
- Talk to alumni of the school. Remember, however, that law schools change, sometimes fairly quickly. Try to talk to a recent graduate or to one who is active in alumni affairs and therefore knowledgeable about the school as it is today.
To obtain applications, calendars or bulletins, and scholarship information from law schools, contact the schools that interest you. In many cases, much of this information may be available on the law school website. Increasingly, law schools are moving toward electronic applications.