Career Advice

Give me my JD and take your LL.B

By Adegoke Arowosebe


During the concluding semester of my LL.M at the University of Calgary in December 2011, a friend of mine (let me call her Jade) who was then completing her first degree in law at the same law school had approached me with a question. She wanted to know between an LL.B and a JD designation, which one will give her a better prospect of getting a law job in Canada. My default answer at the time was an LL.B.


In November 2014, she approached me with exactly the same question, but at this time, my answer was different. I was convinced that a JD would be a more acceptable title on her resume when applying for law jobs in Canada.


JD is the acronym for Juris Doctor while LL.B stands for Bachelor of Laws. Both of them are designations for first degree in Law. While the US law schools have been issuing the JD designation for donkey’s years, it wasn’t until 2001 that University of Toronto blazed the trail by being the first Canadian university to issue a JD certificate to its law grads. Other Canadian universities followed suit. And in 2010, University of Calgary joined the list. But it was democratic with its approach. It allows its law grads to choose which of the designations they prefer and should they changed their mind, they have the grace to have their certificate replaced with the preferred designation, provided it was done within three years of graduation. Jade exercised her right to replace her LL.B certificate with the one that bears the JD letterings.


But why was my answer in 2011 different from the one in 2014? It was due to a confluence of events that I will explain.


In 2011, I was a foreign trained lawyer (FTL) who carried an LL.B-bearing certificate from a jurisdiction where LL.B is the default designation. Besides, with my LL.M in the pipeline, I thought the two degrees had to rhyme or follow a particular sequence. In term of their sounds, the flow of the LL’s and the crescendo from B to M in LL.B/LL.M don’t exist for JD/LL.M. So JD in my view then, didn’t rhyme with an LL.M.


Fast forward to 2014, I was already a member of the Canadian Bar and majority of lawyers in my network carried the JD designation. And most importantly, about 98% of the postings for law jobs specify a JD designation with the remaining few specifying a JD or an LL.B. Therefore, the obvious trend was that the society had moved away from the traditional LL.B and the new generation of recruiters is getting to forget that LL.B is an equivalent of a JD. Although there have been debates about whether the two designations are of equal weight; perhaps because in most of the Commonwealth jurisdictions (not all) that issue LL.B, it is not a prerequisite for admission into law school to have a University degree. 


As noted by senior lawyer David Cheiftz in a post on Slaw, there is the perception that a JD is more prestigious than an LLB. Yes, the perception is there and very strong, particularly in North America.


Therefore, don’t assume everyone knows that JD and LL.B are the same degrees in different nomenclatures. I once had an encounter with someone who didn’t know.


In the final days of my MBA, a colleague asked me that since I have a master degree in Law as well as a master degree in Business, if I want to pursue a further study, will I be doing a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) or a JD? Of course, I knew straight away he was equating a JD with a Ph.D. in Law. I didn’t correct him immediately so he doesn’t feel embarrassed. Eventually, I did, but not until after few months of the conversation.


The foregoing go to show there are people out there who don’t know the two designations are the same. But what if one of them is your hiring manager or recruiter? Don’t worry. I will show you what you should do.


Use these tips, if you find yourself in any environment where the traditional designation is different from the one you have:


1. Act local, think global

This is one art that Corporate America and other global corporations have mastered so well. And they deploy it to strategically adapt in a new business environment. Originally, the term was used to mean that if businesses desire certain global environmental change and there is no local legislation for it, then they should be the agent of change by practising the standard they desire in the local environment they operate. But the term has taken a slightly broader meaning in recent years. Now it means that while organizations could have a global goal, they should learn to adapt to the taste of their local customers.


Law is a globally recognized degree but due to the jurisdictional restriction of the profession, most lawyers work locally. More so, the designation given to the degree differs in countries. As I have said earlier, don’t assume everyone knows this difference. If you have been assuming they know, you may actually be shutting yourself out of job interviews without knowing.


So if you are applying for law jobs outside of the jurisdiction you obtained your law degree, you will need to act “local”. Thus, if you have an LL.B and you are applying for law jobs in Canada or US, you should specify in your resume: “LL.B (an equivalent of a JD).” And if you have a JD and you are applying for a law job outside of North America, please specify this on your resume: “JD (an equivalent of an LL.B).” That little change could make a world of difference in your chances of getting a job.


2. Say it loud

Because the society is moving toward a slim, concise and precise resume style, there is the tendency to abbreviate everything that is abbreviative. (I am not sure there is a word like that but, for lack of a better term, permit me to create it). If you have been abbreviating your degree in your resume, make this one exception if the designation of your law degree is not the traditional designation in the jurisdiction you are applying to. Don’t abbreviate the degree on your resume. Write it in full and put the abbreviation in parenthesis: write Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) instead of just LL.B and Juris Doctor (JD) instead of simply writing JD. This reduces the likelihood of falling prey should the person screening the resume not be familiar with your abbreviated designation.


3 Cover the base in your cover letter

In addition to the two tips mentioned above, cover letter is an opportunity to mention what may not be glaring from your resume. According to Robert Half, a leading global recruitment firm, your cover letter helps “you expand upon your most relevant selling points and direct the hiring manager to a particularly powerful piece in your professional history.” Use the opportunity your cover letter presents to explain that your law degree designation is the same as the one issued in the locality.


And back again to Jade. Two years ago she took her career aspiration to the international level where she now works side by side other lawyers from different nooks and crannies of the world, solving complex international law problems. (To find out about how to land an international law opportunity, read the 7 Strategies Canadian Lawyers Should Use When Looking for International Law Jobs). The majority of her current work colleagues bagged their law degrees in Europe, Asia, and Africa, where LL.B is the traditional designation. But for her, there is no place like home and she will one day return home to relate with her colleagues with a JD.


By then it will now make sense why in 2014, she asked: give me my JD and take your LL.B.


Adegoke Arowosebe is a Calgary-based corporate lawyer. He holds an LL.M in Energy, Natural Resources and Environmental Law from the University of Calgary and an MBA in Global Leadership from the University of Fredericton.