Monday, February 05, 2007

Should Lawyers be called "Doctor"

I was on www.lawstudents.ca recently, and followed a thread on the question, "Should Lawyers be called 'Doctor'." I thought it was an amusing thread, with lots of witty posts. It got me thinking about the place of lawyers in Canadian society. I'll share a few of my thoughts.

First, lawyers are not doctors, in the classical sense of the word. Although they often help others, they are a different professional subset than doctors. By doctors, I mean both medical doctors and academic doctors.

To be a lawyer is to be a professional. It is to be an officer of the court, an attorney (A person to acts on behalf of another). In fact, in the US, most lawyers are called Attorney, which is a lot better than Lawyer, in my opinion. It is more descriptive of what a lawyer does. Lawyer says that you know something about the law. Attorney says that you know what to do with that law - you know how to serve.

Countering that thought is the fact that so many lawyers are very self-serving. Corporate lawyers come to mind immediately, along with Personal Injury lawyers. However, many doctors are quite self-serving as well. I read recently about the increasing number of doctors who are turning to plastic surgery rather than a general practice, because of the easy money. I see many doctors driving very fancy cars to very fancy houses. But, not all doctors, or lawyers, are like this.

I am amazed that someone who has graduated medical school is called "doctor" immediately, even though they have not practiced medicine for one moment. Law graduates in Canada have to take on the name "Student-at-law" for one year after graduation. Only when they pass bar admission requirements can they call themselves "Lawyer."

Some of the posts at www.lawstudents.ca argued that the academic requirements are similar for lawyers, compared to medical doctors or academic PhD's. On this point, I would have to concur. Law school, which usually follows a four-year undergraduate degree, is a long haul. The timeline is similar to the medical student. In some rare cases, you can achieve a PhD in 7 to 8 years of academia, but I think it is usually closer to 10 to 12 years before you can call yourself "doctor".

Lawyers hold a special status in Canadian society. They are often well respected, although often criticized and berated. There are many jokes about the shark-like quality of lawyers. But, at the same time, our citizens choose to elect lawyers as their leaders time and time again.

Myself, I don't really need a special title to do my work. It is enough to say that I am a lawyer. I didn't go to school to become a doctor. Perhaps one day, but that would be another career altogether.

I do want to exchange my LL.B. for a J.D., because others in Canada have that designation now for the same amount of education that I have received. Fair is fair. However, it should be clear to everyone, lawyer and non-lawyer alike, that a Juris Doctorate does not mean that you can call yourself "doctor" or that you can equate your degree to that of a medical doctor or a PhD. They are different paths, mean different things. It is OK to be different. It's not OK to say you are better than another who has dedicated their life to a career, or to a cause.

That's all I have to say on that for now.

6 comments:

RG said...

Interesting post. A similar thread was found on a dental forum: "Should dentists be called doctors?"

a blawger said...

I unfortunatly agree. I wish we could rightfully call ourselves "doctor" for the simple reason that my wife will soon have her PhD and, thus, be the only one to use Dr. It's selfish, but there you go.

Incidentally, at Queen's we will convert to a JD system next year (or so our Dean has promised). I will gleefully trade in my LLB for a JD.

Adam: You went to UofA, right? Any plans that they will convert?

Adam Letourneau said...

I did go to the U of A, and it is on my to-do list to find out if and when they will convert to the JD. Soon, I hope.

Jamie said...

I'm quite glad that Dal has the LLB and I don't imagine I'll be changing it once I get it.

For me the fact that I'll be able to spell my name with my degrees is pretty cool. More importantly, the LLB has been the traditional degree in Canada and I see no reason to change it especially considering the JDs from UofT and other Canadian schools that may change are not 'real' JDs as per the ABA.

While I udnerstand the argument that in other jurisdictions the LLB is an undergrad program, in Canada it is recognized that it is a professional program.

Anonymous said...

While the LL.B may be the traditional degree in Canada, it is only so because of our commonwealth ties. In most of the common law countries the degree of LL.B. is entered into after completion of secondary school. In Canada, it is generally entered into after the completion of a Bachelors degree (some schools have early entry after 2 years undergrad). The reasoning behind the change to the JD in many Canadian schools is for the purposes of international employment. Should one wish to secure employment in another common law country, a J.D. clarifies to employers that the degree is one that has been accomplished after completion of an undergraduate degree. While the LL.B. may be understood to have this same designation in Canada, other common law countries may not be aware of this and simply think that you have a true "undergraduate" degree in law. The purpose of the JD in Canada is simply for clarification purposes when considering other common law countries.

An analogous situation would be if the common trend was to award PhDs as the first degree out of high school, while in Canada we awarded them as post graduate degrees. Tends to diminish the importance of the PhD awarded in Canada when placed in the international market.

As for being called doctor, I guess I'm a traditionalist in the sense that I believe the title doctor should only be awarded to academics who have completed a PhD, DPhil, etc. I quite like how it is done in Germany: medical doctors are not awarded the title doctor, but are given the title physician - it still distinguishes them as a health care giver, but reserves the traditional prestige of the title Doctor to those who have dedicated a huge portion of their life to academia and teaching (I do believe that Doctor is latin for teacher). While an MD or a JD may be considered doctorates, it seems like a bit of a misappropriation to me.

Anonymous said...

Canada is different than here in the U.S. The JD degree is post undergraduate degree and requires 90 additional hours in order to obtain it. Thereby, the JD here IS a doctoral degree and does mean one who obtains it can call themselves Doctor. Although, Attorney is considered the higher title in the field, so unless you're going into acadamia, Attorney is probably the preferred term for use.