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Exchange Terms, Course Planning, and Career Planning

Professor Joanna Harrington


During reading week, I had the good fortune to visit the University of Western Australia in sunny Perth. Australia and Canada share a legal heritage and legal culture, and the state of Western Australia shares many similarities with the province of Alberta, with UWA offering courses in mining and natural resources law, international tax, and corporate social responsibility, among others. UWA is also one of two Australian law schools to switch to a post-graduate JD. Yet, despite having a UofA-UWA exchange agreement in place since 2011, not one UofA law student has gone on exchange to UWA. Did I mention that it was 34 degrees in February, with some beautiful beaches nearby?


For those who want to go on exchange, the key is planning. Both course planning and career planning, as there’s more to an exchange than travel plans. (And if travel is the plan, you could do that without taking courses).


Law students going on exchange need to plan out their courses for both second and third year to ensure the completion of all required courses while in Canada. Understandably, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada wants to ensure that new lawyers are familiar with Canadian administrative law, Canadian corporate law, etc.


But there are advantages to be gained in spending a term away if, and only if, you have researched the opportunities available and the courses to take on exchange meet your personal short- and long-term career goals. Exchange terms can be used, for example, to take courses that are not offered at the UofA or to add breadth to your depth of knowledge by adding a comparative or international dimension. But spending four months away does take planning, with the Australian university terms, for example, running from mid-February to June and late July to November. You may also need to plan so as to make sure you are in Canada for the key recruitment periods. And you should also plan to have a reason for when a law firm asks why you went on exchange.


For some, an exchange term does not work. That’s fine. Some just don’t want to give up four months to go elsewhere. After all, after first year, you only have two 8-month periods to get your choice of courses to provide a foundation for a lifetime of practice. Summer course programs now offered by law schools in increasingly diverse destinations are also an alternative, now or later in practice when planning a career change. Still others will prefer to gain a degree credential when going abroad, with an LL.M. at the University of Cambridge, for example, taking nine months to complete.


And lastly, please note that you will earn a transcript from the exchange school. And so, if after a few years of practice, you decide to take a career break to pursue an M.B.A. or LL.M., those grades on exchange will count towards your GPA for admission to graduate school.