Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The *Real* Reasons Some Canadian Law Schools Are Switching to the JD

My friend Leslie Green--a longtime faculty member at Osgoode Hall School of Law of York University, Toronto, who is now Professor of the Philosophy of Law at Oxford University--writes:

Ms McNish shows a surprising lack of interest in the real reasons why a couple of Canadian law deans were eager to adopt the US label for their undergraduate law degrees. She uncritically reports that, 'Unlike in Canada, British law graduates are not required to earn an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite... As a result, global law firms typically pay law grads with JDs substantially more than Canadians packing LLBs."

There is no evidence whatever for this claim.   A lower salary is not "typically" offered to LLB graduates from Canada's best law schools.

Nor are global law firms in London paying Oxford and Cambridge graduates less than those from Harvard or Yale--and here the first degree in law is called a BA. The claim is simply false.

Moreover, everyone in the Canadian legal academy knows the real origins of this change, which include (in no order): (a) an attempt at brand-differentiation by a couple of law schools keen to ration access by price; (b) a cheap sop to law students who are being charged much higher fees for the same, and sometimes, worse legal educations than students got in those very schools not so long ago; and (c) continentalist sucking-up.

I taught for many years in elite law schools in both Canada and the US.

Here, at Oxford, where law is an unabashed first degree, our students are no weaker than those who start it as a second undergraduate degree in the US or Canada. There is no evidence that they make worse, or worse-paid lawyers than their equivalent cohorts in the same or comparable firms. Do people really think that market-savvy global law firms do not know that, other things being equal, BA=LLB=JD? (Which is not to deny, of course, that they are also savvy about the quality of the education the students received under the various labels.)

No anonymous comments; post only once, comments may take awhile to appear.


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I cannot comment with confidence, but I was once told by hiring partners that US lawyers working in the UK made significantly more than the British lawyers working at the same firms (because the US lawyers were paid the same rate as they would be in the US [NY] and also given housing allowences, while the starting rate for British lawyers was much lower,) and that the British and US lawyers often worked on seperate floors to avoid contention and resentment. Now, that might well have been a lie, but I've heard it from people at both British firms w/ offices in the US and US firms with offices in London.

Posted by: Matt | Nov 20, 2007 12:16:40 PM

Well, *that* may be true. (Though my sources here in London deny it is common.)

But it is not on point: there is no suggestion that the US lawyers were paid more *because* their undergrad law degree was called a JD, which is the fiction now on the table.

And the explanation is surely obvious: most people would not move from the US or Canada to an elite law firm (or law school!) in the UK to take a salary cut, or a net cut including the cost of housing. No news there; and nothing to do with degree labeling.

Posted by: Les Green | Nov 20, 2007 12:34:48 PM

As an LL.B. graduate of the University of Toronto's law school, I was not wholly persuaded that the school's move to the JD title was all that necessary or useful, so I am certainly not ardently defending such moves by Canadian law schools. Neither, however, am I ardently criticizing them, and I'm not sure why strong feelings on either side of this debate are warranted, any more than they would have been when we began addressing judges in Ontario as "your honour" rather than "m'Lord." And that leads me to two questions/comments. (1) I gather that *part* of the thinking behind the original move was that US firms were becoming an increasingly popular potential employer, at least for U of T grads. But while *some* firms are sophisticated enough to recognize that LL.B.=JD, not all are, and some individuals within even sophisticated firms might not have gotten the message. Given that law firms (like law schools) are, notwithstanding your description of them as market-savvy, at least sometimes parochial and inclined to reject out of hand any credential that looks at all unusual, the move rendered some marginal service to students and graduates seeking to tap the US market; a few more students might get second looks, interviews, or jobs because a hapless lawyer sorting through an application pile didn't have to figure out what an LL.B. was. Now. calling the degree a JD does not change its status in the eyes of individual states judging qualifications for the bar; that's one reason I was unconvinced the name change was that big a deal. Still, if a school like U of T (I can't speak for Queen's) can realize even a marginal benefit for students in the U.S. employment market by changing a couple of words on a piece of vellum, why not do it, or at least offer it as an option? What's the harm? Surely Canadian identity, that eternally-at-risk but never-disappearing quality, won't vanish because a school changes the name on its degree. (2) I guess I'm curious about your claim that the name change represents "continentalist sucking-up." It's a great phrase, to be sure. But: from whom to whom? Changing a degree's name because it may yield benefits in the US employment market is a strategy, not an act of sucking up. So where's the sucking up here?

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Nov 20, 2007 1:49:02 PM

This may more appropriately be a reply to the previous post, but I think the statement that JDs were "introduced by U.S. schools in the 1960s" is false. My understanding is that some schools, including the University of Chicago, awarded JDs since at least the early 20th century and that it was in the 1960s the ABA unified things and all schools went to the JD. Chicago's early use of the JD might be called "an attempt at brand-differentiation."

Posted by: Paul | Nov 20, 2007 2:37:57 PM

I did not say that the marketing strategy was harmful, to the Canadian identity, or to anything else. I said that Ms McNish accepted uncritically the false claim that Canadian law undergrads, from whichever school, who *are* hired by 'global law firms' are 'typically' paid less *because* their degree is an LLB. Is there evidence to the contrary?

By 'sucking-up' I meant what everyone means by it: flattery of those assumed to be powerful and, derivatively, of their prejudices, usually in order to secure a perceived advantage for oneself (or, derivatively, one's students). I said 'continentalist' because the relevant powerful being courted are those who share the continent and not (say) 'global law firms' in London, who are eager to hire (for example) Oxford's excellent graduates with a BA in law--as well as Canadian and Australian LLBs, American oldsters with LLBs from Yale and Columbia, and, of course, JDs from assorted schools. And I did not say that there were *no* law firms who didn't know what an LLB is. I said that the market-savvy 'global law firms' that Ms McNish accuses of such ignorance are not that stupid. Is there evidence to the contrary?

Posted by: Les Green | Nov 20, 2007 3:43:22 PM

I write simply to say that my understanding matches perfectly with Les's: in fact, until reading the previous post, I had not heard anyone claim otherwise.

Posted by: Thom Brooks | Nov 21, 2007 3:01:58 AM

My comment was only in reaction to the claim that there is no evidence that Oxford law BAs are paid no less than American JDs. That, its seems, is not true, or at least there is some evidence against it. Obviously it's not _the name_ of the degree that matters here, but if such a move might make Canadian lawyers going to UK firms be treated like American lawyers (that is, being paid more than British lawyers) I don't see why it should be avoided. Whether _this_ would be true or not I don't know, but I also don't see that Les Green has shown any evidence for _that_.

Posted by: Matt | Nov 21, 2007 6:05:59 AM

Thank you, Prof. Green, for your very direct response. I certainly wish to acknowledge and accept your point that your main criticism was of Ms. McNish's reporting on the question of disparate salaries. Knocking out that argument doesn't say all that much, in my view, about whether the name change is still a marginally beneficial move or not; but perhaps I have misread your tone, and you are agnostic on that question.

As to sucking up, your definition is fine with me, although I note that "courting" the "powerful" is not necessarily the same as flattering or "sucking up" to them. Its application is more questionable. Suppose the basic justification for the name change at Toronto was that some greater number of U.S. employers would, at first glance, understand a student's resume if it read "J.D." rather than "LL.B.," and that Canadian employers would hold steady in accepting the same resumes. The assumption may be mistaken; but I don't see how acting on this assumption can fairly be called "sucking up," any more than it can be called sucking up, in any commonly accepted use of the phrase, if a school were to offer up a French-language version of a student transcript in order to facilitate applications to firms in Montreal. Trying to assist larger numbers of students in a (then-)growing employment by eliminating any marginal barriers to understanding resumes is a form of facilitation, not of flattery. Alas, I can muster no great evidence on the question of the "ignorance" of "market-savvy" law firms, although I would point out that I was not talking about some form of widespread institutional ignorance, but of unfamiliarity on the margins, by isolated hiring individuals (who pop in and out of such firms at an increasing rate of turnover).

I apologize for the length of the reply and appreciate your last comment; you're certainly welcome to let it serve as your last word. If all you're doing is critizising Ms. McNish's citation of a particular argument you regard as faulty, I have no disagreement on that score. If the post was intended as a general criticism of Canadian law schools changing their degree designation, I suppose I am still left wondering why it makes much of a difference to anyone, including the critics of the name change, what the schools call their degree.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Nov 21, 2007 6:41:26 AM

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