Designation decision

- January 25, 2011

Jade Buchanan
Jade Buchanan is the Law Student Society president. Recent alumni will have the option of exchanging their LLB degree for the new JD.  (Bruce Bottomley Photo)

Dalhousie’s law degree is set to go by a new name starting next year.

On Monday, January 24, University Senate approved the change of Dalhousie’s law degree from a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) to a Juris Doctor (JD). The shift in designation will have no effect on the curriculum of the program itself; it’s a change designed to better represent the program’s status as a second degree for most students.

“It’s not an overstatement to say that this is a trend that’s sweeping the nation,” says Kim Brooks, dean of the Schulich School of Law, noting that 11 other Canadian common law programs have made the switch in the past decade. The main reason is that the JD is seen as having more international credibility, especially in countries that offer LLB programs accepting students straight from high school.

“The practice of law, and the legal profession more broadly, has become increasingly international in its orientation,” she explains. “For many Canadian students, it means that their career path may take them through Canada, the U.S., Australia and the U.K. with some regularity, and maybe some other countries with less regularity. And our graduates have reported that in their travels the JD is just a much more familiar degree designation internationally. It saves them a layer of explanations and documentation.”

Change for next academic year

“[Our goal is] to not have any of our students negatively affected by confusion over the degree,” says Jade Buchanan, president of the Law Student’s Society (LSS). “We don’t want them to be left behind, and we don’t want students considering law to be confused either. We need to communicate to them that we’re one of the top law schools in Canada.”

Once it’s been reviewed by the Board of Governors and the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, the change will come into effect next academic year. Current students—those in the graduating classes of 2012 and 2013—will have the option to choose between the LLB and the JD, but all subsequent classes will graduate with the JD designation. Alumni (including this year’s graduating class) will have the option of exchanging their LLB for a JD degree if they wish, a choice that Mr. Buchanan feels will resonate with newer alumni in particular.

This is not the first time this issue has come up for debate; students attempted to convince the law school to make the switch back in 1969. Like that unsuccessful attempt, this new movement for change was also student-led, sparked by an LSS plebiscite in 2009 that saw almost 80 per cent of law students support the JD, with a 65 per cent turnout. Since then, three classes of LSS leadership have worked with the administration to bring the change through faculty council and now through Senate.

'Credit is owed to the students'

“They did the hard work of persuading the faculty that it was worth a change,” says Prof. Brooks. It’s a little odd that at the end of the day it’s the Dean that has to take it to Senate, given that fact...but really, the credit is owed to the students.”

“The nice thing about this process is that it’s a considered one,” she continues, noting that the time it’s taken to move the decision through faculty council and Senate has helped ensure its thoroughness. “It’s one that current students in particular are very enthusiastic about, along with many of our alumni.” Though she recognizes that some alumni with an attachment to the LLB may be disappointed by the decision, she says that the majority of alumni engaged in the lengthy consultation process support the change.

“We have a lot of momentum right now because of the Schulich gift and our new dean,” says Mr. Buchanan. “The change to a JD means that momentum can continue, and we can continue to be recognized at one of the most desirable law schools in Canada.”


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