International students are a meaningful part of the Harvard Law School community. Meet Hussain and Mike, two Canadian citizens who are currently in their second year at HLS. Their experiences provide honest and helpful insights for those considering a legal education in the United States.

Hussain and Mike, tell us about your path to Harvard Law as Canadians.

Hussain: I grew up mostly in Cupar, Saskatchewan, a small town of five hundred people on the Canadian prairies where people often don’t even pursue higher education. After graduating high school in Saskatchewan, I came to the East Coast for college at McGill University. Leaving home and spending four years in Montreal was really a transformative experience for me, both through the incredible education I got and because of the brilliant friends I made in my time in Quebec. After graduating in 2022, I came straight through to law school as a KJD.

Mike: I tell my American friends that I’m from Toronto to make it easier, but for those actually from the Greater Toronto Area, I’ve spent the majority of my life in Mississauga. (For whatever it’s worth, I’ve also lived in Scarborough and North York, so I think I can kind of claim Toronto.) I graduated from St-Marcellinus Secondary School (shout-out Marcies) then spent a couple of postgraduate years playing basketball at prep schools in Pennsylvania and Delray Beach. I came back to Canada to continue playing for five years at Lakehead University and finished with a degree in philosophy and an MBA.

After graduating, I spent a couple of years as a policy analyst for the Canadian government in Ottawa while tutoring the LSAT and coaching a local youth basketball team before enrolling at HLS. As a side note, for those who think that the Cambridge winters are bad, you don’t know cold until you’ve experienced the -40-degree weather of Thunder Bay, Ontario!

What unique challenges have you encountered as a Canadian student at HLS?

Hussain: While Canada and the northeast US feel very similar in many ways, there were some cultural differences I had to learn to navigate. Obviously, there’s all the logistical issues of getting things like bank accounts, credit cards, student loans, State IDs, and SSNs in the US (with the intensity of 1L fall, I’d highly recommend moving down to Cambridge a few weeks early and getting all of that stuff out of the way before the semester starts). There are also the little things that might keep nagging at you for a bit longer, like having to decipher the bizarre numbers Americans throw at you in miles, USD, and dollars per gallon gas prices. By the time you reach 2L, though, like Mike and I, more likely than not you’ll have unwittingly assimilated into Americana.

At times during my 1L coursework, I wondered if my lack of prior knowledge of American history or government was holding me back. In hindsight, I think lots of peers who grew up going to school here were learning or relearning many of the concepts I was. The law school’s Zero-L online course for the summer before 1L does a great job of bringing everyone up to a relatively similar speed.

I’ve loved the opportunity to gain so much knowledge about the ins and outs of a political and legal system with such an outsized international impact, including back home in Canada. Ironically, my favorite course in 1L (and the one in which I performed the best academically) turned out to be Legislation & Regulation, which deals with the US administrative state and about which I knew the least coming in!

Mike: To second much of what Hussain said, the logistical issues like getting a new bank account, state IDs, and filing taxes in two countries can be a huge pain. I probably had to go into the bank almost every day for the first month of classes to get everything sorted out. Getting to Cambridge early is highly recommended. However, I’m also empathetic to the desire to soak in as much time back home as possible before making the trip down, as it will likely be one of the last times that you’ll get to spend an extended period with your Canadian friends and family.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you’ll have to write a summer paper to be eligible to work in the US and won’t be able to do certain clinics more than once as they’re considered “Advanced Clinicals.” The former isn’t so bad as it allows you to knock out the writing requirement for graduation early. The latter is a bit disappointing but, unfortunately, is something that all non-US citizens have to deal with.

As far as law school itself, you’d think that not growing up in the US education system would create a steeper learning curve. Yet, I haven’t found that I’m at any significant disadvantage when compared to my American friends here. In retrospect, I don’t think that my upbringing would have prepared me any better for the Canadian legal system either. Law school is challenging, regardless of where you grew up.

Are there any specific resources or support networks for Canadian students at HLS that you found particularly helpful?

Mike: One of the great benefits of a large school like HLS is that there’s a community for everyone. We have a Canadian Law Students Association (CLSA) that puts on a Canadian Thanksgiving (yes, we do have that, and it’s in October) every year between all the different Harvard schools, with non-Canadian students of course welcome. For the 2022 Thanksgiving, our CLSA President at the time, Lloyd Lyall ’24, even made an entire Thanksgiving dinner for 50 people. I was also able to meet up with a few of the incoming Canadians before arriving on campus through our Slack channel.

Hussain: I’d second Mike in pointing to CLSA as the outstanding resource for Canadians coming to HLS. It’s a smaller affinity group compared to some of the other law school ones, but it still holds consistent events and has great leadership. Lloyd’s tenure as “Prime Minister” of CLSA and the head of its “Cabinet” has finished and the organization is currently led by my sectionmate Theo Zych ’25 and another good friend, Farzam Karimi ’24.

An interesting quirk about the CLSA constitution is that the 1L representative carries the title of “Governor-General,” and is only charged with duties in absentia of the English monarch’s presence on campus. As the constitution states, “If Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II comes to HLS, then all of the powers of the Governor-General shall revert to Her Majesty for the period she is in residence.” It seems that the framers of the CLSA constitution never contemplated a monarchical transition, so that part might need amendment.

How do you think your Harvard Law education has prepared you for a career in law, whether in the United States or Canada?

Hussain: While I plan on practicing here in the United States, I think a Harvard Law education prepares you well for a career back in Canada. I have many friends I’ve met here who are already pursuing that path or are planning to do so after 3L. One of the most enriching aspects of my HLS journey has been the opportunity to connect with Canadian LLMs. I got to know them over 1L, and they’ve since returned to Canada to contribute to legal academia and pursue private practice in legal markets like Toronto and Winnipeg.

CLSA has also been great in organizing events that have brought together HLS alumni and current students who have clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada, which is a great option for Canadians looking to clerk after law school. Unfortunately, another drawback of being a noncitizen law school grad here is that federal law prevents us Canadians from getting paid for federal U.S. clerkships in the continental US (for those interested in American clerkships, that leaves Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico as the major potential destinations).

Mike: I’d say the main way that HLS prepares you for life after law school is through the connections you build here. I’ve learned as much, and probably even more, from my peers at HLS as I have from class itself.

Seeing my classmates’ hard work motivates me to be better every day and allows me to rethink what’s possible for my own life and career. People here are also incredibly helpful. If there’s something you’re interested in, there’s always someone willing to give advice or who can put you in touch with someone who can.

Could you tell us about any organizations or communities you are part of at HLS?

Hussain: Aside from hanging out with the CLSA crew, I’m involved on campus with the law school’s two soccer teams (HLS FC Red and HLS FC Black took the two top spots in the Boston grad school league last year!) and with different intramural sports.

Another great experience in 2L has been the chance to take the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC). Doing direct representation, getting courtroom experience, and being involved in actual litigation work have all been a blast, but the best part has been the ability to directly make even a small difference in people’s lives.

Mike: I’m a graduate manager with the Harvard men’s basketball team and a board member of the Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law. Last year, I played flag football and intramural basketball, and participated in the inaugural students vs. faculty charity basketball game. We won handily, of course, and we’re hoping to make it an annual tradition. Unfortunately, I’ve been injured this year and haven’t been able to participate in any sports, but 2024–25 is going to be a big comeback year at Hemenway.

Finally, can you offer advice to prospective international students who are considering applying to HLS?

Mike: My number one piece of advice is to be absolutely sure that this is what you want. It’s a huge commitment. This school has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me. However, it comes with some significant tradeoffs for international students in particular. For one, the difference in cost between an American and Canadian law school is stark. There’s an almost 50K USD (that’s roughly 67,000 loonies for those counting in 2024) annual difference between the tuition at an American law school and the most expensive Canadian one (up to 65k for the least expensive ones). And that’s just tuition. Think about housing. Think about health care. With the current state of the US Supreme Court, among other worrying political trends, think about what raising a family might look like for you here.

Do some deep reflection into what your dream career and life would look like, ask yourself how HLS can help you achieve that, then ask yourself whether there are other means of achieving your goals. There are opportunity costs to every decision you make.

If you’re going the JD route, be prepared to make the move here permanent. While the Harvard brand certainly carries an air of mystique among Canadian firms, returning to practice at home isn’t as easy as you might think. Aside from the economics of making a third of what you’d make in US big law, you have to go through an NCA accreditation process, which usually takes about 2 years to complete. If you plan on moving back, getting an LLM might be the more efficient option for you.

All of this isn’t meant to discourage you. It’s meant to paint a realistic picture. If you’ve done some sincere reflection and determined that this is your dream, then by all means, apply! It was worth it for me, as it has been for many others.

Hussain: Mike’s done a great job above in outlining what your thought process should be as you weigh how HLS can actually benefit your career, beyond giving you a brand boost. Think about what tangible difference HLS might make compared to options in Canada, especially if you’d like to practice back home. I would recommend adding elite American law schools, like HLS, to your list of Canadian schools, and thinking hard about how far down the U.S. list you’re willing to go over a comparable option like McGill or the University of Toronto, especially given the cost differences Mike mentioned above.

So, take a deep breath, do your research, and consider not just the immediate impact but the long-term gains of this education. While HLS is across a border, it’s not as far from Canada, both literally and figuratively, as it might seem. Geographically, you’re not looking at a massive move. Culturally, while there are differences, the transition is not insurmountable; the legal education and content, though certainly challenging, are not inaccessible.

Ultimately, the choice to pursue an education at HLS should be grounded in a clear understanding of its potential to enhance your legal career, both in the short term and the long run.

–Michael Poirier ’25 and Hussain Awan ’25

Filed in: Student Voices

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