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StephenToast

Where should I go for constitutional and criminal law?

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I’m applying for law school 2021 fall entry. I think I’m a pretty strong candidate with 3.87 cGPA, 175 LSAT, and some interesting ECs. I’m not sure where I should go, so I’m seeking input from the community.

A little bit about myself

  • Interested in constitutional and criminal law
  • Want to work as a crown for now, but I am open to other options, especially once I’ve gotten into law school and actually know stuff about the law
  • Not particularly interested in Corporate/Bay St./NY (for now)
  • No debt from undergrad, can afford to go into crushing debt for law school but would prefer not to
  • Open to study/practise in basically any common law jurisdiction in Canada
  • Studying at UBC right now, I lived in Toronto for a while. I don’t really like the two big cities, but I don’t hate them either.

Right now I’m considering UofT, Osgoode, Queen’s, UBC, and Ottawa. I did some research online and came up with a pros and cons list, mostly based on the schools' stats and recruitment material. It’d be great if you can read it and tell me if I drank too much kool-aid from the schools’ website.

 

Quote

UofT
Pros:

  • Reputation for all-around stellar education, which means I can easily switch my area of focus, should I suddenly develop a love for copyright law or some other area once I'm in law school
  • Easy networking in Toronto

Cons:

  • Tuition is expensive
  • Toronto is expensive
  • No merit-based entrance scholarship and I don’t know how much bursary I’ll qualify for

 

 

Quote

Osgoode
Pros:

  • Apparently it’s like UofT but with cheaper tuition
  • Innocence Project sounds amazing

Cons:

  • Toronto is expensive

 

Quote

Queen’s
Pros:

  • Prison law clinic sounds very interesting
  • Reputation for criminal law
  • Been to Kingston a few times, really like the city

Cons:

  • Networking might be difficult in Kingston
  • Summering might be difficult in Kingston
  • Legal market in Kingston does not look great, especially for government work

How's the mobility of Queen's students summering in other parts of Ontario?
Is it true that Queen's has been shifting their focus from criminal to corporate law?

 

Quote

Ottawa
Pros:

  • Proximity to SCC and various federal institutions, should be good for my aspiration to be a crown
  • Bilingual-ish city, can work on my French
  • Heard good things about their constitutional law classes

Cons:

  • Low ranking (I know it’s stupid but I don’t have much else to go on, hence I’m here on this forum to see if I'm missing anything)

 

 

 

Quote

UBC
Pros:

  • Existing network of friends
  • Relatively cheap tuition
  • Innocence Project

Cons:

  • Vancouver is expensive
  • I’d like a change in environment
  • Not sure how much constitutional law I can practise in Vancouver

 

 

Sorry for the wall of text. I feel like I'm overwhelmed with choices right now. Insights, opinions, criticism, and rain of my parade would be very much appreciated!

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Oz also has a couple other clinical/intensive opportunities, including the Criminal Law Intensive, and the Community & Legal Aid Services Programme (specifically the Criminal Division, in which you pretty much get to run summary offence files, under the supervision of review counsel of course). Last year, among other criminal law courses, Oz offered a course on homicide and youth justice. In the past I know courses have been offered on sexual assault. This year they're offering courses on mental health issues, racial issues and a seminar on prison law. There are also mooting opportunities as well and courses on constitutional law and constitutional litigation. Take a look here: https://www.osgoode.yorku.ca/courses-and-seminars/ to see what has been offered in the past year (I don't think it's been updated to reflect this upcoming year's courses).

Toronto is expensive, but I think the cost of living on campus is somewhat reasonable.

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7 minutes ago, burr0wn said:

Oz also has a couple other clinical/intensive opportunities, including the Criminal Law Intensive, and the Community & Legal Aid Services Programme (specifically the Criminal Division, in which you pretty much get to run summary offence files, under the supervision of review counsel of course). Last year, among other criminal law courses, Oz offered a course on homicide and youth justice. In the past I know courses have been offered on sexual assault. This year they're offering courses on mental health issues, racial issues and a seminar on prison law. There are also mooting opportunities as well and courses on constitutional law and constitutional litigation. Take a look here: https://www.osgoode.yorku.ca/courses-and-seminars/ to see what has been offered in the past year (I don't think it's been updated to reflect this upcoming year's courses).

Toronto is expensive, but I think the cost of living on campus is somewhat reasonable.

Thanks for the info! Do you happen to know anything about their criminal law intensive programme? There isn't much on their website beyond stating its existence

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Posted (edited)

Ottawa also has a prison 'clinic': https://commonlaw.uottawa.ca/en/students/student-centre/course_search_engine (see CML2179FC). It doesn't garner much attention because it only started last year...

Ottawa also has some great constitutional law profs. See for e.g.: C. Mathen, P. Oliver, A. Dodek, K. Kirkup, J. Magnet, V. MacDonnell, etc. Paul Daly also just joined the faculty.  There are others who I'm forgetting. 

That's not to say that other schools don't have great constitutional law profs; most Canadian law schools have several faculty members specializing in constitutional law... However, because of its high JD enrolment numbers, Ottawa can offer tons of upper year course options. There are always a few interesting con / crim law seminars offered. (Again, I'm not implying that this isn't available at other schools as well...)

If you're interested in constitutional / criminal law, I would avoid the expensive Toronto schools. 

Edited by PerisoreusCanadensis
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These are pretty core areas of the law that any school in Canada will offer a good education in, it is not necessary to go to one with a "focus" in the area. Crown positions can often be difficult to get, particularly early in your career, while criminal defense is often low paying, so debt is a real concern. 

Personally I would narrow it between Queens and UBC due to cost. I'd lean against Ottawa because it is such a large program and not as well regarded (personal preference only). Between those two I would choose based on where I wanted to spend three years and which province I wanted to practice in. 

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20 minutes ago, Mal said:

These are pretty core areas of the law that any school in Canada will offer a good education in, it is not necessary to go to one with a "focus" in the area. Crown positions can often be difficult to get, particularly early in your career, while criminal defense is often low paying, so debt is a real concern. 

Personally I would narrow it between Queens and UBC due to cost. I'd lean against Ottawa because it is such a large program and not as well regarded (personal preference only). Between those two I would choose based on where I wanted to spend three years and which province I wanted to practice in. 

That makes sense. I have enough savings that I can go to Oz with minimal debt. With that in mind, do you think I should still consider Oz?

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25 minutes ago, PerisoreusCanadensis said:

Ottawa also has a prison 'clinic': https://commonlaw.uottawa.ca/en/students/student-centre/course_search_engine (see CML2179FC). It doesn't garner much attention because it only started last year...

Ottawa also has some great constitutional law profs. See for e.g.: C. Mathen, P. Oliver, A. Dodek, K. Kirkup, J. Magnet, V. MacDonnell, etc. Paul Daly also just joined the faculty.  There are others who I'm forgetting. 

That's not to say that other schools don't have great constitutional law profs; most Canadian law schools have several faculty members specializing in constitutional law... However, because of its high JD enrolment numbers, Ottawa can offer tons of upper year course options. There are always a few interesting con / crim law seminars offered. (Again, I'm not implying that this isn't available at other schools as well...)

If you're interested in constitutional / criminal law, I would avoid the expensive Toronto schools. 

I take it that you went to Ottawa? What do you think about Mal's comment that Ottawa's programme is too large?

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Posted (edited)

You didn’t mention the criminal law clinic @ UBC. That’s far more useful than the Innocence Project if you plan to practice criminal law. 

Anyway, Mal has provided the credited response imo.

On a side note: how can you say that you can go into “crushing debt” for law school, when you think you’ll be practicing criminal law? Take a look at Crown salaries; they are ok, but not great. Further, if you really want to practice criminal law, you’ll have to consider defence work if you can’t get into a Crown office for articles (which is very very likely). Defence articles and practice (in the first few years) pay very poorly, with few exceptions. You literally would risking be bankruptcy or homelessness if you were in 100K+ plus of debt and articling for peanuts in defence without support. 

Edited by QuincyWagstaff
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42 minutes ago, StephenToast said:

Thanks for the info! Do you happen to know anything about their criminal law intensive programme? There isn't much on their website beyond stating its existence

No problem! I know that it's an intensive worth half your year's credit load, and IIRC, takes place over the course of one semester. I think there are weekly seminars once a week and you spend the other days shadowing either defence counsel, Crowns or judges. 

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Posted (edited)
41 minutes ago, Mal said:

Personally I would narrow it between Queens and UBC due to cost. I'd lean against Ottawa because it is such a large program and not as well regarded (personal preference only). Between those two I would choose based on where I wanted to spend three years and which province I wanted to practice in. 

 

15 minutes ago, StephenToast said:

I take it that you went to Ottawa? What do you think about Mal's comment that Ottawa's programme is too large?

Yeah I just graduated from Ottawa.

I agree with Mal re: deciding where you want to live. Along with cost, choosing where you want to live would be my primary concern. I really liked Ottawa.

Re: class size:

I didn't mind the large program. The class is split into three 'large groups' in first year. You take all of your 1L courses with your large group. (In addition, you have one class with your 'small group'—which constitutes 1/4 of your 'large group': approx. 25 students.) So the JD program felt smaller than it actually was. As noted above, I enjoyed the upper year course breadth—which is a direct result of the large program size.

However, I do agree with Mal. If you personally prefer a small program, then go elsewhere.

If it was an option, I probably would have went to UBC!!

Edited by PerisoreusCanadensis

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11 minutes ago, QuincyWagstaff said:

You didn’t mention the criminal law clinic @ UBC. That’s far more useful than the Innocence Project if you plan to practice criminal law. 

Anyway, Mal has provided the credited response imo.

On a side note: how can you say that you can go into “crushing debt” for law school, when you think you’ll be practicing criminal law? Take a look at Crown salaries; they are ok, but not great. Further, if you really want to practice criminal law, you’ll have to consider defence work if you can’t get into a Crown office for articles (which is very very likely). Defence articles and practice (in the first few years) pay very poorly, with few exceptions. You literally would risking be bankruptcy or homelessness if you were in 100K+ plus of debt and articling for peanuts in defence without support. 

Huh, I never really considered that defense work would pay substantially less than crown. Boy I'm glad I came here asking for help!

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3 minutes ago, PerisoreusCanadensis said:

 

Yeah I just graduated from Ottawa.

I agree with Mal re: deciding where you want to live. Along with cost, choosing where you want to live would be my primary concern.

Re: class size:

I didn't mind the large program. The class is split into three 'large groups' in first year. You take all of your 1L courses with your large group. (In addition, you have one class with your 'small group'—which constitutes 1/4 of your 'large group': approx. 25 students.) So the JD program felt smaller than it actually was. As noted above, I enjoyed the upper year course breadth—which is a direct result of the large program size.

However, I do agree with Mal. If you personally prefer a small program, then go elsewhere.

If it was an option, I probably would have went to UBC!!

Why would you have gone to UBC if it was an option? Also, did you feel like being located in Ottawa have an impact on your education and career prospect?

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Posted (edited)
8 minutes ago, StephenToast said:

Why would you have gone to UBC if it was an option? Also, did you feel like being located in Ottawa have an impact on your education and career prospect?

Very cheap tuition and the beauty of BC.

Also, while I don't give much weight to Canadian law school rankings, UBC, McGill, Toronto, and Osgoode are the best schools.. I would say that the cost of Toronto and Osgoode outweigh the added benefit of any ranking though. But if you can go to UBC (or McGill for that matter) and want to live in Vancouver (or Montreal), I definitely would...

Going to school in Ottawa did not negatively affect my job prospects. My law school friends and acquaintances will be articling in just about every type of legal setting available in various different markets across Canada.

Edited by PerisoreusCanadensis

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2 minutes ago, PerisoreusCanadensis said:

Very cheap tuition and the beauty of BC.

Also, while I don't give much weight to Canadian law school rankings, UBC, McGill, Toronto, and Osgoode are the best schools.. I would say that the cost of Toronto and Osgoode outweigh the added benefit of any ranking though. But if you can go to UBC (or McGill for that matter) and want to live in Vancouver (or Montreal), I definitely would...

Going to school in Ottawa did not negatively affect my job prospects. My law school friends and acquaintances are articling in just about every type of legal setting available.

Too bad I don't speak enough French to go to McGill. If I understand correctly, for criminal and constitutional law, all five schools or my list are pretty much on par in terms of education and career prospect, so I should just go where's cheap and nice.

Do you know if there's substantially more opportunities for crown roles in Ottawa? Or would the abundance of law schools in Ontario bring my chances of articling in a crown office down enough that it wouldn't matter?

Speaking of the beautiful nature of BC, we have coyotes roaming the streets of UBC, now that there aren't any cars or people on campus...
 

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Whaaaat?! Just go to U of T - considered by many to be the best law school in Canada!

**Ducks out of thread.**

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3 minutes ago, Deadpool said:

Whaaaat?! Just go to U of T - considered by many to be the best law school in Canada!

**Ducks out of thread.**

Nah, the University of Law at Guildford, England must be better. It has the word LAW in it!

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, StephenToast said:

Too bad I don't speak enough French to go to McGill. If I understand correctly, for criminal and constitutional law, all five schools or my list are pretty much on par in terms of education and career prospect, so I should just go where's cheap and nice.

Do you know if there's substantially more opportunities for crown roles in Ottawa? Or would the abundance of law schools in Ontario bring my chances of articling in a crown office down enough that it wouldn't matter?

Speaking of the beautiful nature of BC, we have coyotes roaming the streets of UBC, now that there aren't any cars or people on campus...
 

All five law schools (and every law school in Canada) will provide you with a great legal education. The advantage of the 'higher ranked' schools (such as UBC, U of T, and Osgoode) is the increased odds of landing a position with a large firm or obtaining an appellate clerkship. 

However, I don't think that where you go to law school really matters for criminal law. Crown recruitment is meritorious; you either do well in the substantive recruitment process or you don't. I also don't think that your choice of law school matters if your goal is crim defence. Your goal should likely be minimizing debt if you want to work in that field. Posters who work in crim defence can correct me if i'm mistaken.

Edited by PerisoreusCanadensis
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19 minutes ago, PerisoreusCanadensis said:

All five law schools (and every law school in Canada) will provide you with a great legal education. The advantage of the 'higher ranked' schools (such as UBC, U of T, and Osgoode) is the increased odds of landing a position with a large firm or obtaining an appellate clerkship. 

However, I don't think that where you go to law school really matters for criminal law. Crown recruitment is meritorious; you either do well in the substantive recruitment process or you don't. I also don't think that your choice of law school matters if your goal is crim defence. Your goal should likely be minimizing debt if you want to work in that field. Posters who work in crim defence can correct me if i'm mistaken.

I should do some research to see if clerking appeals to me then. Thanks for the advise!

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, PerisoreusCanadensis said:

All five law schools (and every law school in Canada) will provide you with a great legal education. The advantage of the 'higher ranked' schools (such as UBC, U of T, and Osgoode) is the increased odds of landing a position with a large firm or obtaining an appellate clerkship. 

However, I don't think that where you go to law school really matters for criminal law. Crown recruitment is meritorious; you either do well in the substantive recruitment process or you don't. I also don't think that your choice of law school matters if your goal is crim defence. Your goal should likely be minimizing debt if you want to work in that field. Posters who work in crim defence can correct me if i'm mistaken.

I was in almost your exact position a few years ago. I listened to similar advice and made the wrong choice.

Equality of Schools

You are in an unusual position, you have fantastic stats. Most law students in Canada don't have great stats and I believe this allows the idea of "equality among schools" to flourish. What makes it convincing is that the idea is half true.

If you do well - top 20% - in any of the top 4 Ontario schools, UBC or McGill then your school does not matter a whole lot. All the career options are pretty much open to you and you will probably land a great job in crim, civil or MAG.

However, if you are not part of the top 20%, where you go to school matters A LOT. As you go down the class ranking the only school which is safe - even marginally safe - is UofT. All others have significantly curtailed your opportunity for good employment. This is not bad per say but if you are going in with high stats, with other options in life, why take such a huge risk? Law school grades are not random, but your ability to predict how well your grades will be is quite low, LSAT and GPA have low predictive value.

Think of it this way. Look at the articling rate. If it is not 100%, there is a sizable portion that are taking unpaid/no pay articling positions. Think about that for a bit.

Best Advice

If I were to do it again I would go to a top US school and work in big law doing white collar defence until my debt was payed off. At that point I would come back here. I would suggest you consider this.

US firms, unlike Canadian firms, have large criminal defence practices. You can do work you are interested in and make money ($200 000/yr). You don't have to do it for longer than a few years to pay off your debt and then you can switch to other work in Canada.

The secret is that grades and prestige matter a huge amount in law. Interest and clinic work are a pennies on the scale. This is evidenced in OCIs and the articling recruit. Also, there is not even a guarantee you will get the programs offered by these schools. You usually have to apply for them; they are not particularly competitive but sometimes people don't get them.

If you happen to get into HYS then just accept and relax in their private loan programs which are very forgiving.

Canadian Schools

UofT is actually quite amazing if you want to do crim. Everyone I know who went there and wanted public interest work ended up with a great position. They have a couple great programs, they just don't publicize it much. The secret is that school rank matters and firms and government will hire you based on a quota system AGAINST your class mates. So if crim is not popular at UofT they will just take the best X students from UofT who applied, which is a small pool.

The debt you take on is actually a lot more manageable than most people think. Even if you make something like 40k, you can pay off a 100k loan. It sucks but it is doable. But it does not seem that you even have this problem as you are able to pay off some Ontario schools tuition?

Conclusion

Apply to the US. Go to UofT if you feel like it. Otherwise reconsider law, it is probably not worth the risk for you. Pursue other opportunities and come back in a few years if you cant find another path.

This is the unpopular opinion but hopefully it will shed some light.

Edited by Umpalumpa

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Posted (edited)

I disagree a lot with umpalumpa.

If you're not going into law purely for the money, which really seems to be the case given your interests, then law is fulfilling while (either immediately or eventually) paying you an upper middle class income.

It's always a good idea to minimize debt so that should be a factor for you, savings or not. The school you go to ultimately won't matter much for the kind of work you want to do, so look into what actual clinics and course offerings the schools have that interest you and pick based on that.

Edited by pzabbythesecond

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