The National Program since 1968 and the Faculty’s New Curriculum
For over 150 years, the Faculty has endeavoured to provide a liberal education in law and jurisprudence suitable as a first training for the practice of law. Since 1968, the Faculty has offered a national professional training that qualifies students to proceed to the legal professions not only in Quebec, but also in all other Canadian jurisdictions. The curriculum, while remaining within the Faculty's control, reflects the expectations of the professional corporations. It is constantly under review in order to respond to the present and future needs of legal professionals in Canada, as well as the requirements of those intending to pursue careers in the public and private sectors where legal training is an asset rather than a formal qualification.
At McGill, the study of law is more than professional training. It has long been acknowledged in the great universities of Europe and North America that the scientific, liberal, and independent study of law must have a place as an academic discipline. This means that the university is recognized as an appropriate forum to examine the law as an element of social organization, from critical, historical, and comparative perspectives. Scholarship in the law is, in this sense, as essential an element in the life of the Faculty as its role in the training of professionals. Indeed, the two functions are inseparable.
McGill occupies a unique position among Canadian law faculties to pursue its dual mission of educating future professionals and promoting scholarship. Through its location in Quebec, the Faculty has a long tradition of teaching and scholarship in both English and French. The staff and students have always been drawn from these two linguistic groups. While English has been the primary language of the Faculty, the use of French in the classroom and as a language in daily life is firmly entrenched. Wilfrid Laurier's valedictory address of 1864 was delivered in his mother tongue.
McGill has also long been a meeting ground for Canada's legal traditions, the civil law deriving from the law of France and more remotely from Roman Law, and the English common law. The Faculty's early curriculum vividly demonstrated the richness of both Quebec and Canadian legal heritage in the 1850s and 1860s through the study of the Institutes of Justinian, the dominant law of pre-Napoleonic France in the form of the Coutume de Paris, and that monument of late 18th-century English law, the Commentaries of William Blackstone.
The Faculty believes that its program, within which students earn both a civil law (B.C.L.) and a common law (LL.B.) degree, creates an important link between Canada’s civil and common law systems. Graduates acquire a number of important advantages. First, the program enables all students to critically examine the foundations of both Canadian legal systems. This study contributes significantly to the advancement of legal theory and jurisprudence. Second, graduates may proceed to the Bars of all the Canadian provinces as well as those of a number of jurisdictions in the United States and elsewhere. Third, the increased interdependence in our modern world means that many legal problems transcend individual legal systems, making knowledge of both the civil law and the common law a valuable asset. Finally, the comparative and transsystemic dimension of McGill's program is useful in foreign service, government work, international practice, and law reform, whether in Quebec or other provinces.
McGill's program engages its students and professorial staff in the study of law not only as a means for achieving desirable social objectives, but also as an end in itself. The Faculty is confident that its graduates, who are awarded B.C.L. and LL.B. degrees simultaneously, will continue to make special contributions to Canadian public and intellectual life through careers that take many paths, and are not limited to any particular province or region, or even to the practice of law.
Since the academic year 1999–2000, students obtain both a B.C.L. and an LL.B. degree after completing 105 credits taken over three or four years. Concepts from the two legal systems are presented through an innovative and integrated methodology that fosters critical analysis. You may also add to your basic law program by completing a minor, major concentration, or honours program. Joint degrees in management or social work are also possible, and you can take part of your legal education at another university.
The New McGill Curriculum
The New McGill Curriculum
In 1998, the Faculty adopted a creative and challenging approach to legal education that prepares McGill graduates for careers that increasingly require knowledge of more than one legal system. Starting in first year, you are introduced to civil law and common law concepts and encouraged to compare and critically evaluate the two traditions. This unique curriculum is entirely different from the “three-plus-one” programs offered by other law faculties. McGill’s transsystemic method fosters not only outstanding analytical ability, but also critical reflection and openness to diverse approaches to legal problems.
The program’s structure ensures that you are well grounded in the fundamental legal concepts of the civil law and the common law, in courses specific to each tradition. The comparative dimension of McGill’s curriculum focuses primarily upon the law of obligations (contracts and tort or delict) in which remarkable changes are taking place globally involving complex legal transactions across national borders.
The Faculty emphasizes the mastery of underlying principles in private and public law, with a wealth of courses in legal theory, social analysis, and legal pluralism. McGill’s proud tradition of public law teaching and scholarship is also reflected in the wide range of courses offered in Canadian constitutional and administrative law, as well as McGill’s unsurpassed offerings in international law.
To complement these basic courses, the Faculty offers, through the Institute of Comparative Law, a number of advanced courses in comparative private law. The transsystemic character of the program is also reflected in the teaching of federal courses. In the public as well as corporate and mercantile law fields, courses are taught with both private law traditions in view.
The Faculty's first National Program is described in R.W. Lee, “Legal Education Old and New" (1916) 36 Can. Law Times 24 at 115. For a detailed discussion of the National Program from 1968-1998, see J.E.C. Brierley, “Developments in Legal Education at McGill, 1970-1980” (1982), 7 Dal. L.J. 364. A monograph-length article on the National Program by R.A. Macdonald appeared under the title “The National Law Program at McGill: Origins, Establishment, Prospects” in (1990) 13 Dal. L.J. 211. On the new McGill Program, see Y.-M. Morrissette, “McGill's Integrated Civil and Common Law Program” (2002) Legal Education 12.