The Canadian Law School Admission Process 2021
As an aspiring lawyer, you may have noticed that the Canadian law school admissions process can be a bit obscure. To help you, this blog is the first in a series of posts on what it takes to become a practicing lawyer in Canada. In particular, we at I Got In discuss what applying to Canadian law schools looks like and we’ll give you a brief run-down of what your three years in law school will entail.
A few notes before we get started:
Keep in mind that all of the information in this post is based on information available in 2021. Some information may change over the years, so it’s crucial that you regularly check the sites of the universities you want to apply to for any changes or updates. This post is designed to be a very general outline that speaks to the overlap in law school applications across schools. However, each school has its own application specifications so you need to make sure that your application fulfills all of the criteria as listed on each website.
This post looks at the process of applying to and studying at Canadian law schools. This means that none of the schools discussed or referenced here are American Bar Association (ABA) approved. In Canada, bar qualifications are provincially established with each province having its own requirements and its own bar association. While there is an agreement between provinces to allow lawyers to practice in different provinces, there is no similar agreement between Canada and the United States. All of this is to say that graduates from Canadian law schools are not eligible to take the American bar exam and cannot practice in the U.S. If you are interested in eventually practicing law in the U.S., check out this list of ABA-approved law schools.
Finally, this post exclusively discusses the process of applying to Juris Doctor (JD) programs in Canada. This means that much of the information here relating to deadlines and the law-school structure may not be applicable to applicants for combined degrees or other similar programs.
While each school has its own specifications for their application process, there is significant overlap. Most law schools require you to submit the following documents:
- LSAT score report
- letters of recommendation
- personal statement
Your transcript conveys a large amount of information to admissions committees. In your transcript, they can find all of the undergraduate courses you have taken as well as your grades. They can also use it to find or calculate your undergraduate grade point average (UGPA).
Applicants are often very concerned about their UGPA. Well, let it be known that the schools themselves are not overly concerned about this portion of your background. While your UGPA is still an important factor in the law school admission process, schools are more concerned with finding interesting, passionate, hardworking students than they are about finding students with a high UGPA.
This isn’t to say that they place no value on your GPA. While there is no single GPA that law schools look for, there are certain trends in the GPAs of the students that gain admission. For instance, admissions committees take into consideration whether your GPA has changed over the course of your undergraduate studies. If you start out with a high GPA but it drops over the course of your undergraduate career, this might signal that you have lost motivation or were unable to cope with more difficult course work. However, if you start out with a low GPA but it improved over the years, this signals that perhaps you are a hard worker who doubled down on your studies and really committed themselves to improving.
Most law schools publish a prospectus that details the demographics of their incoming classes including information on the incoming class’s average GPA and LSAT scores. They make a point of recommending that you apply regardless of your GPA – again, they’re looking for interesting candidates, not just smart ones. Through the information they give you, you can gain an understanding of whether or not you would be considered a competitive applicant.
You’re likely wondering how Canadian law schools calculate GPA. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single easy answer. Some schools only use two years of undergraduate courses, some use all of your undergraduate years, some select your years with the highest grades, and others use your most recent years. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to find this information on their website. You’ll generally find it listed either in their admissions requirements or in an FAQ section.
While law programs generally don’t have a preference for certain areas of undergraduate study, they do take note of the level of difficulty of your courses. Generally speaking, they view more difficult, higher-level courses more favourably as they indicate your readiness to take on the content and heavy course load that you’ll face as a law student.
The earliest you can apply to law school is usually around the third year of your undergraduate degree. However, some schools do require you to have completed your degree before applying to their JD program. Most schools view completing your degree more favourably as it provides more of an opportunity for you to have taken the upper-year courses that better prepare you for the higher-level thinking that is required of you in law school.
Most law schools require their applicants to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), a standardized test used worldwide in the law-school admissions’ process. Your LSAT score report includes your score on each of the three scored sections of the exam as well as the writing sample you are required to submit. The three sections you will encounter are reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning, all of which are scored in the same way.
Your score is reported in three different ways: the score, your percentile rank, and your score band. The score is based on the number of questions you answer correctly and is converted to a number between 120 and 180. The percentile rank represents the percentage of test takers whose scores were lower than yours in the previous three testing years. The third and most confusing aspect of your LSAT score report is the score band. To put it simply, it’s a margin of error and is typically about three points above and below the score you receive – so a score of 162 would have a score band that looks something like 159-165. Ultimately, it’s a recognition that testing isn’t a 100% accurate representation of a person’s skill level and that, because of this, a person’s LSAT score is merely an estimate of where their skill level falls. With this in mind, there is generally a smaller range in the score bands of those who take the LSAT multiple times.
If you’re interested in learning more about the LSAT, keep your eyes on our ‘Advice’ page – we’ve got a post all about the LSAT coming soon!
Letters of Reference
As part of your law school application, you’ll likely also be required to submit two letters of reference. Law schools generally require that one of these be an academic reference such as a professor or academic advisor. The other can usually be either an academic or employment-related reference. This might differ by school, so it’s especially important for you to double-check these requirements. Some schools also may even have requirements or suggestions for what should be included in these letters.
Whatever the schools’ requirements might be, be sure to select references who can speak about you in a well-rounded manner. You want people who know you well enough to be able to provide evidence of your strengths and assets, people who can accurately and whole-heartedly recommend you to the law schools you are applying to.
Law schools also generally require a personal statement where you can delve into your life experiences and how they’ve contributed to your interest in law. These statements are your opportunity to showcase your skills and character qualities to the committee members and to outshine the competition.
Be sure to check individual schools’ sites as they often have specific criteria that they want your statement to fulfill. They also might have helpful tips posted that will help guide your writing process. One important tip is to avoid simply restating the information that has been stated in other parts of your application. Use this space to elaborate on things you have not had the chance to discuss in detail. Consider what makes you unique and use that to demonstrate why you would be an excellent addition to their student body and an exceptional lawyer. If you are not sure what to include in your personal statement, opt for professional services such as I Got In’s Personal Application Support.
There is a range in Canadian law school application deadlines with the earliest falling in November of the year before your admission and the latest falling in March of the year of your admission (ex: if you are applying to start your first year in 2022, the earliest deadline is in November 2021 and the latest in March of 2022). Applications will typically open about two months before the deadline, giving you plenty of time to gather all of your documents. Most universities have their own application process and timeline so check their specific sites to make sure you submit everything on time. However, all Ontario schools use the OUAC site for their applications. Check out OUAC’s law school page for deadlines and other important application requirements.
Keep in mind that it typically takes about three weeks for you to receive your LSAT score report. Avoid waiting until the last minute to take the test; even taking it three weeks before your application deadlines can be risky. Instead, try and take it as soon as you are ready for it. There are about nine testing sessions between August and November alone, so you have plenty of opportunities to schedule your LSAT long before your application deadline.
While some schools allow you to write the LSAT after your law school application is due, it’s still recommended to get it out of the way before the deadline. Besides, students typically apply to more than one school and it’s important to make sure that you satisfy the application requirements of every school. Chances are that at least one of your chosen schools will require you to write the LSAT by the deadline. This information can generally be found in the FAQ section or the information bulletin of school websites.
JD programs are designed to take three years if you pursue them full-time. If you are completing your degree on a part-time basis, it will take you approximately four years.
In terms of the curriculum, over the course of the three years, there is a significant difference between the first-year curriculum and that of the upper years. Your first year is primarily composed of a series of required courses. These are all introductory in their content, introducing you to necessary skills (such as legal ethics or legal research and writing) or foundational information that you will build upon in the following two years.
You have significantly more room for elective courses in your second and third years. At this point, you direct your course of study towards the legal specialties that most interest you or which you would like to pursue in your legal career. Some universities may have modules designed based on certain specialties – such as criminal or labour law – to ensure you pursue the best courses based on your career aspirations.
One important note on law school: don’t limit your education to the classroom. There are many on-campus opportunities that provide important practical experience that will develop relevant legal skills and build your resumé.
One way to gain this experience is through moot courts – mock courts based on hypothetical scenarios or cases. They mimic the proceedings of actual courts, granting law students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with these proceedings and how they ought to conduct themselves throughout. Another good opportunity is to look into whether your campus has a legal clinic. Getting involved at a legal clinic will give you real-world practise under the supervision of practicing lawyers.
Once you complete your JD degree, you typically have to complete some kind of bar exam or course as well as a period of articling under the supervision of a qualified member of the bar. As the bar and articling process differ by province, it’s hard to give a quick run-down of what these could look like. Besides, we don’t want to bombard you with too much information! Keep your eyes peeled though, we’ve got a post all about these processes coming soon!
The key to submitting a killer application and getting through law school is planning. With an all-encompassing plan that prepares you for law school by ensuring your GPA and LSAT scores are competitive, your resumé is full, and your personal statement highlights your unique qualities, you are sure to go far. However, keep in mind that a successful plan requires a strong approach and strategy to help you stand out from the crowd.
Remember to give yourself plenty of time in putting your application together in case there are delays in receiving any component of your application such as your letters of recommendation or your LSAT score report. Doing so will also ensure that you have the time to write a personal statement that tells your story in the most authentic and interesting way possible.
Your planning doesn’t end with acceptance into law school. You should keep discovering ways to stand out from your peers; activities such as moot courts or seeking employment in legal clinics will help prepare you for your articling experience as well as your future legal career.
If you are struggling to put together a plan or struggling with any aspects of your law school application, book a free consultation with our experts to get you started in the right direction.