About Canadian & US Law degrees

Highlights Canadian Lawyer degree

  • US and Canadian Medical and Law degrees are 2nd entry professional doctorate degrees, now designated as MD & JD, instead of MBBS & LL.B respectively
  • British and Indian Medical and Law degrees are 1st entry professional bachelor degrees, designated as M.B.B.S & LL.B
  • In US and Canada, generally, the pre-requisite for these degrees is  4 year Bachelor’s degree with above 80% marks. The entrance requirement for these degrees under British system is grade 12 high school diploma.
  • Out of 43 Presidents of the United States, 26 held law degrees; Out of 22 Canadian Prime Ministers, 16 held law degrees.

Surprisingly, up until 1969 in US, both medical and law degrees were named bachelor’s degrees i.e. M.B.B.S or LL.B even though they were not bachelor’s degrees. However, in 1969, Harvard and Columbia were the first universities that re-named their medical and law degrees as MD (doctor of medicine) and JD (Doctor of Jurisprudence) respectively to reflect their graduate status rather than an undergraduate status. Yale did the same in 1971. Canada followed the trend only recently since 2001 and Australia in 2011. Read out why and how it all happened.

Both degrees came down to US and Canada following British education system. Under British education system, a student earns a medical or a law degree in 5 years after grade 12 education, without first completing a Bachelor’s degree in another discipline. After completion of  law or medical degrees, the students write bar/board exams and undergo a period of internship before becoming licensed.

However, both in USA and Canada, the admission into a medical or a law degree requires a first Bachelor’s degree and an admissions test (L.S.A.T for Law and M.C.A.T for Medical degree). After completion of these degrees, the students write bar/board exams and undergo a period of internship before becoming licensed.

Generally a student with 80% or above marks in Bachelor’s degree and a good LSAT or MCAT score gets admission into law or medical school.

Both in US and Canada, for a long time, the law and the medical degrees kept their original British designations as Bachelor’s degrees. The medical degree kept its original name M.B (Bachelor of medicine) or M.B.B.S (Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery). The law degree kept its original name LL.B (Bachelor of Laws).

However, since the medical degree and the law degree in US and Canada required a first Bachelor’s degree to enter the medical or the law school, the Harvard and Columbia universities were the first universities to change the names of their degrees to MD (Doctor of Medicine) and JD (Jurist Doctor or Doctor of Jurisprudence) in 1969. Yale did this in 1971. Canada followed the trend in 2001 onward. Australia followed behind the same lines in 2011.

In Australia, generally, universities that offer the J.D. also offer the LL.B.—the LL.B. is for students without a prior degree while the J.D. is offered as a graduate level degree for those with a prior non-law bachelor’s degree. However, at some universities, for example the University of Melbourne, RMIT University and the University of Western Australia, law can now only be studied at the postgraduate level and the J.D. has completely replaced the LL.B.

The use of the “J.D.” designation by Canadian law schools is not intended to indicate an emphasis on American law, but rather to distinguish Canadian law degrees from English law degrees, which do not require prior undergraduate study.

Commentary: A master’s degree is obtained in 1 year after completing 4 year’s bachelor’s degree. A JD or MD is obtained in 3 to 4 years after completing a 4 year’s bachelor’s degree. Harvard was, therefore, right to choose MD and JD designations for its medical and law degrees because they take longer time than a Master’s degree which only requires a year’s study after Bachelor’s degree. Harvard was also right not to name their law and medical degrees as PH.Ds because a PH.D is a research degree rather than a professional or practical degree like an MD or a JD.

Out of 43 Presidents of the United States, 25 held law degrees. Barack Obama and his wife both hold JD from Harvard. Bill Clinton and his wife both hold JD from Yale. Out of 22 Canadian Prime Ministers, 15 held law degrees. Recent Canadian Prime Ministers Paul Martin, Jean Chretien and Pierre Trudeau all held LL.B’s. These LL.B degrees are equivalent to JD and MD even though the name LL.B suggests otherwise.