MOVING TO THE FRONT from January 27, 2005, because of further updates, below.
Osgoode Hall School of Law at York University, Toronto (Canada's oldest, and at least some say, most prestigious law school) and New York University School of Law have announced a new four-year program that will permit students to earn both a Canadian and American law degree, thus enabling a student to sit for the bar exam and practice in either country. While there are some existing combined programs between Canadian and American law schools, this is the first program between top schools in each country. The Osgoode press release is here.
As things stand, many of the top Canadian students pursue law degrees in America, but should they decide to return to Canada, they then have to take a variety of courses before they are eligible for admission to the bar. This new combined degree option permits a student to do all the necessary schooling up front, and thus to be in a position to pursue practice in either country, or both. Given the fierce competition for the top Canadian law students, this new program may give Osgoode an edge against its downtown rival, the University of Toronto, generally considered to be the other top law school in Canada. Will Toronto follow suit in establishing a similar combined degree program? We shall see...
UPDATE: An Osgoode alum writes with a correction: "Osgoode is many things but the oldest law faculty/school in Canada (common law or civil law) isn't one of them. Even OHLS, itself, doesn't claim that position. Depending one's views of what one needs before there's officially a law school, Osgoode is either 2nd, 3rd or 4th oldest. For example, generally accepted working dates for the orgins for the law faculties at the four oldest schools are
University of Toronto 1887
McGill 1848 (I believe civil law only, at this stage)
ANOTHER UPDATE: A Canadian law professor writes that the University of Toronto Law Faculty "was founded in 1949. (Their website does, it is true, fudge the issue: it says 'The law school took on its modern form under the leadership of Cecil Wright in 1949, building on the foundations of the law school established at the University of Toronto in 1887.' The 1887 dept, which expired, had nothing to do with the 1949 law school.) Osgoode is the oldest law school in Upper Canada." McGill is the oldest in lower Canada. For a period of time, you could only practice law in Ontario (including Toronto) if you had graduated from Osgoode.
Of course, as someone else wrote to me, the really interesting issue is which of these two dominant schools in Canadian legal education is better. From an American perspective, the striking thing about Toronto is that it is largely alone among Canadian law schools in having a significant presence in law & economics (Michael Trebilcock, Edward Iacobucci et al.), which in turn gives it significant visibility in American legal scholarship, where law & economics looms large. Osgoode, by contrast, being the more politically left of the two schools, has never had a major law & economics presence (law & economics is not, as I understand it, much of a presence in Canadian law schools generally of course, but in the case of Osgoode, its absence has something to do with the left tradition on the faculty, not traditionalism about legal scholarship; in many other respects, Osgoode is highly interdisciplinary in its approach to legal scholarship).