Barrett Schitka is the first University of Calgary Faculty of Law student to participate in the Dual Degree JD Program. Before law school, Barrett received a Bachelor of Applied Science (Honours) in Chemical Engineering with Management Sciences Option and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish, both from the University of Waterloo (2006-2011). He began law school in Calgary in September 2011 and was a first year student when the IELP was launched on March 2, 2012. Barrett is attending the University of Houston Law Centrefor his second year. He plans to return to Calgary for his third year and complete his Canadian JD degree in 2013/2014, and then complete his American JD degree in Houston in his fourth year in 2014/2015.
Barrett was interviewed while in Calgary on October 18, 2012, after spending two months at the University of Houston Law Centre.
Q: What originally interested you in the International Energy Lawyers Dual Degree Program?
I have always been interested in attending university in the US. As an undergraduate and a student athlete, I considered various American colleges. There is something about the American college sport culture that has always appealed to me. Before applying to law school, because of my Chemical Engineering degree and my interest in energy law, I looked into existing dual Canadian/American law degree programs. However, the cost of the other dual degree programs was prohibitive; students had to pay the US tuition for the two years they attended the American law school and the cost of one year’s tuition there was more than the costs of three years tuition at a Canadian law school. In addition, law school rankings are really important in the US and have a dramatic impact on employability and credibility. None of the Canadian law schools who were actively promoting a dual degree program were partnered with Tier 1 law schools.
I chose to attend the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary because of its specialization in natural resources, energy and environmental law and because I heard rumors that a partnership with an American law school in the energy area was in the works. When Calgary Law announced the International Energy Lawyers Program in March 2012, while I was in first year, it was great timing for me. IELP had the right area of focus for me and Calgary was partnered with a law school currently ranked 57th. What really made the IELP possible for me was the funding support from Nexen Inc. Nexen made it possible for me to in effect pay the University of Calgary law school tuition for all four years of the dual degree program. [Nexen Inc.’s International Energy Law Scholarships are worth $15,000.]
Q: Was it difficult to get accepted into the IELP?
Because I applied as soon as applications were accepted, which was only three months after the dual degree program was launched, the application process was quite informal. I supplied my grades, my CV and a letter of intent indicating why I was interested in the program. I was accepted into the dual degree program by Calgary Law in mid-July and the University of Houston Law Centre agreed to accept me on the basis of the Calgary acceptance.
The only difficult part was the scramble to get to Houston in time for the start of law school in mid-August. First I had to decide, in consultation with the Associate Dean, whether to attend the U of C or Houston for years two and four of my now four year program, or for years three and four (a choice I am not sure is still available, although I know the administration is trying to keep the program as flexible as possible). I decided to attend Houston in years two and four so that I could be back in Calgary for year three and graduate with my first year classmates. They are an amazing group of colleagues and their diversity is a testament to Calgary Law’s admission process which considers the whole person. Once I made that decision in late July, I had to arrange for funding, courses, a student visa and a place to live and get to Houston in time for a one-day Orientation for first year and transfer students on August 18 and a competitive moot try-out for upper year and transfer students on August 19. Classes started on August 27.
Q: What do you think should interest other U of C students in the program?
First of all, I think anyone who is interested in learning to think and see things differently should be interested in the IELP. That’s what it is all about for me, the contrast between the two legal systems. I read cases differently, I see the law differently ― and it’s not a thing I choose to do consciously, things just jump out at you differently.
Second, anyone interested in gaining an understanding of why things are the way they are in the US should attend because it will be very helpful to them in a natural resources or energy law practice, whether in Canada or the US or elsewhere. For example, I’ve gained a real appreciation for the influence that the American constitutional right to a jury trial has on jurisdictional questions. As another example, the impact states’ original status as independent colonies has on the limited jurisdiction of the federal courts and the location of the residual constitutional power in the states, rather than in the federal government, is hard to over-estimate. These are undercurrents that affect everything.
Q: What courses are you taking at Houston?
There are a number of required courses at the University of Houston. In the fall term I am taking two first-year courses: the fall term half of a Lawyering Skills and Strategies course and a Procedure course. The Lawyering Skills and Strategies is the equivalent of the U of C’s Fundamental Legal Skills course, which I took, but in the fall term the Lawyering Skills and Strategies course focuses on the Bluebook (the Harvard citation system) and contract drafting and so there is little overlap. In the winter term, Lawyering Skills and Strategies focuses on a memo and a moot and I do not have to take that half of the course. The Procedure course is about Federal Civil Procedure. I am very happy to be in two first year courses because I know what to expect in those courses and it is easier to make friends with first year students who are also in friend-making mode.
In the winter term 2013 I will be taking two more required first year courses: Constitutional Law and Criminal Law.
In the fall term 2012 I am also taking Evidence, a recommended second year course for Houston law students. And in the IELP area I am taking two elective courses:
I am actually taking a sixth course this term because I tried out for the competitive moots in a McGillivray-style competition on August 19 and, after an interview, was selected to represent the University of Houston in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. I’d really like to meet my U of C classmates at the international rounds in Washington D.C. in the spring! Students who are selected for a competitive moot attend a special moot court course in the fall term. The credits for the competitive moots are not retroactive, so the Jessup will count for a course for me in my fourth year (2014-2015).
Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew before you went to Houston?
I wish I had known it was important to be in the same section in both of the first year courses I would be taking in the fall term of 2012. It would have made it easier to get to know people and make new friends, especially since Orientation only lasted one day and there are not as many social meet-and-greets as there were in the first month of law school in Calgary. Houston is a large law school with 80 to 90 students in each section and 270 students in each year. It is easier to meet first year law students because they have not yet settled in the way the upper year students have.
I also wish I had known how much you need a car in Houston, a real commuter city. I am living in residence on campus, mainly because I needed to find a place to stay quickly, but I still need a car to run grocery and other errands. The University of Houston is so big that nothing is close. Fortunately the transit service to downtown is very good and the University has a get-away-car program that makes it easy to rent a car on campus for $8/hour.
Q: What extra-curricular activities are you involved in?
I am currently a student editor with the Alberta Law Review and the Houston Journal of Health Law and Policy. I am also a member of the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators (AIPN) Student Club here in Houston. [The AIPN is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to enhance the professionalism of cross border energy negotiators throughout the world. AIPN has more than two-thousand members in over eighty countries, representing numerous international oil and gas companies, host governments, law firms, and academic institutions, including the University of Houston Law Center and the University of Calgary Faculty of Law, both of which have professors on AIPN’s Education Advisory Board.]
Q: What’s the best thing about the Houston law school? The worst?
The best? Everything really is bigger in Texas. There are so many great professors and they very accessible. The number of cases that turn up in a Westlaw search is phenomenal. You have a choice of twelve of more hornbooks [American for a one-volume treatise summarizing the law in a specific field] in every subject. It’s very much a “go big or go home” attitude.
The worst? The law school is big. There are over 800 students. And, while they are very nice, there is an undercurrent of competitiveness among the upper year students, especially at interview time. It’s understandable ― they are vying for good jobs against students from hundreds of law schools.
Q: What’s the best thing about Houston? The worst?
The weather is the best. July and August are really hot and humid, but in the middle of the winter – in January and February – the average highs are 17 degrees Celsius. There is an outdoor pool on campus. It’s 27 degrees Celsius today, in the middle of October.
The worst? It’s big [the fourth largest city in the US, with more than 2.1 million people in an area of 1,700 square km] so everything is far away. You have all the amenities of a major US city (e.g., major league baseball and football), but you’ve got to travel a bit to get there.
Q: Have you done any travelling around Texas?
I went to Austin one long weekend and attended the University of Texas at Austin Longhorns’ opening game at Texas Memorial Stadium. There were 100,000 people at a college football game ― it was amazing. The night life in Austin was great too. I also made it to San Antonio and visited the Alamo.
Q: Is there anything else you think those interested in the IELP should know?
If you apply for the IELP, do it for the right reasons and with a lot of conviction. The energy tie is really important and that’s why you should be going. The experience is not for the faint of heart. It’s more competitive, more intense, and it requires an extra year and more money. It’s not easy; no one hands you a degree. But in the end I think it will be worth it.
And one more thing: I had to adopt the expression ‘y’all’ in order to fit in. They look at you funny if you don’t use it.
See also the article, "Doubling Down", int he November 19, 2012 edition of UToday.