Legal theory as an underpinning of legal scholarship extends beyond questions of policy to theoretical and methodological approaches, such as law and philosophy, law and economics, legal history, law and society, and many others. Graduate students at the Faculty of Law are already exposed to legal theory through our mandatory LLM seminar. The Legal Theory concentration is designed to enable students to deepen and broaden their engagement with legal theory. Students pursuing the concentration will obtain a nuanced understanding of the main theoretical and methodological approaches to law and will have the opportunity to focus their studies on one or more of these approaches.

Elements of the Legal Theory Concentration

The Legal Theory concentration within the Master of Laws (LLM) program enables students to pursue a specific number of course credits (for the coursework-only option), or a combination of credits from a thesis and coursework (for the short or longer thesis options) in the area of Legal Theory.  Students in the Legal Theory concentration will also take the mandatory 3-credit seminar for students in the concentrations, Foundations of Legal Theory, as well as the mandatory LLM Seminar. Entry into the concentration is on a competitive basis and participation in the concentration will be limited to a relatively small group of students in the LLM program.

Aside from the mandatory Foundations of Legal Theory seminar, studies within the concentration can be based  either on coursework in legal theory or, for those writing a thesis, a on combination of both coursework and a thesis related to legal theory.

Click below for a list of our Faculty’s courses in the Legal Theory area that were offered over the past three years. While not all courses will be offered every year, this is an illustrative list.

Courses in Legal Theory

  • Advanced Contracts: The Law of Contractual Interpretation
  • Advanced Private Law: Categories and Concepts
  • Authorship and Copyright: Theory and History
  • Civil Law
  • Comparative Constitutional Law and Politics
  • Comparative Law Theory
  • Contemporary Problems in Legal Theory
  • Crime & Punishment: Mandatory Minimums, The Death Penalty & other Current Debates
  • Criminal Law Theory
  • Criminalization in Historical and Theoretical Perspective
  • Critical Theory and Global Law: Resisting Economic Globalization
  • Empirical Legal Studies Seminar
  • From Patriarchy to Equal Citizenship
  • History and Theory of the Common Law
  • History and Theory of International Law
  • Intensive Course: Constitutional Theory
  • Intensive Course: Ethics, Value Pluralism, and International Justice
  • Intensive Course: Property Theory
  • Intensive Course: Proportionality, Constitutional Rights And Their Limitations 
  • Intensive Course: Purposive Interpretation in Law
  • Intensive Course: Trademark Theory
  • Introduction to Contemporary Legal Theory
  • Introduction to Islamic Law
  • Introduction to Legal Philosophy
  • Judgment in Law and Politics
  • Kant’s Philosophy of Law
  • Law of Democracy
  • Law and Literature
  • Law and Multiculturalism
  • Law, Religion and Public Discourse
  • Legal Archaeology: Studies in Cases in Context
  • Legal Process, Professionalism and Ethics
  • Modern Political Trials
  • Peoples and Minorities in International Law
  • Political Justice and Liberal Democracy
  • Political Theory of Hegel
  • Principle and Policy in Contract Law
  • Religion and the Liberal State: The Case of Islam
  • Rewriting Equality
  • Restitution
  • Rights
  • Roman Law
  • Statutes and Statutory Interpretation 
  • Theories of Equality
  • Theory of Contract Law
  • Theory of Private Law: Selected Topics and Texts
  • Workshop:  Critical Analysis of Law
  • Workshop:  Legal Theory
  • Workshop: Law and Economics Seminar
  • Workshop: Legal History Seminar

Upon acceptance into the concentration, the Associate Dean (Graduate) will review each student’s course selection in order to ensure that an appropriate number of credits are devoted to legal theory.

Students in the legal theory concentration will likely be particularly interested in attending our regular and highly-regarded Legal Theory Workshops, which bring leading legal and political philosophers from around the world to present their work in progress, providing a forum for both faculty and students to discuss central topics in Legal Theory. The Legal Theory Workshop can be taken on a for credit-basis or can be attended on a non-credit basis.

Why the University of Toronto?

The Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto is one of the strongest faculties internationally in the field of Legal Theory. One indication of this strength is the number of our faculty members who hold joint appointments with the University’s equally renowned Department of Philosophy.  But our Legal Theory strength is not confined to the study of philosophy of law in the traditional way. Indeed, what makes the Faculty of Law’s approach to Legal Theory distinctive, even unique, is that engagement with a wide variety of theoretical approaches occurs for the most part  in the context of inquires into legal doctrine and concrete legal problems. At the Faculty, one is less likely to encounter Legal Theory in a course devoted to the likes of  Hart, Fuller or Dworkin than in a course on property law, contract law, criminal law, or constitutional law.  Moreover, this distinctive characteristic means that scholars whose inquiries are informed by a law and economics perspective, or by enquiries that are more empirical in nature, are fully engaged in the same debates as their colleagues who might take their inspiration from, for example, Hobbes, Kant, Hegel, Arendt, Kelsen, Hart, Fuller, Dworkin, or Foucault. The LLM concentration in Legal Theory offers a flexible way to experience the rich offerings of the highly pluralistic Toronto ‘School’ of Legal Theory.

Who Should Pursue the Legal Theory Concentration?

Students who are interested in careers in legal academia are traditionally particularly attracted to Legal Theory programs, as legal scholars today are commonly engaged in a range of doctrinal, policy and theoretical debates.   In addition, students wishing to broaden their thinking on the law will find that the concentration offers them a high-level, demanding, and rewarding approach to graduate studies in law.

Application Process

Admission requirements for students in the Legal Theory concentration are the same as for students in the general LLM program, with the exception that a specific interest in the concentration area must be addressed in the Thesis Proposal or Coursework Plan of Study. Applicants should substantiate their interest in and suitability for the Legal Theory concentration through this statement and their letters of reference.  Admission to the program is on a competitive basis, and spots in the concentration will be limited.

Students wishing to pursue coursework and a thesis in the area of Legal Theory, but who are not accepted into the Legal Theory concentration, may nevertheless be accepted into the LLM program.

All applicants are required to review in detail all of the information and various links within our Admissions Standards and Application Instructions webpages.  Answers to frequently asked questions can be found on our Graduate Program FAQ webpage.

Credit Requirements

All students in the LLM concentration in Legal Theory may pursue either the LLM program course-work only option, or a longer or shorter thesis option.

Coursework-only Option with a Concentration in Legal Theory  (28 course credits):

Students in the concentration who pursue the coursework-only option would complete 28 course credits in the LLM program.  Students pursuing this option would complete:

  • LLM Seminar (1 credit).
  • At least 12 credits of courses from an approved list of Legal Theory courses, including the mandatory 3-credit course Foundations of Legal Theory.
  • Additional courses, either within or outside of the list of Legal Theory courses above, to bring them to 28 total credits in the program.
  • Just as in the general LLM program, there is also a course-related writing requirement under the coursework-only option, which must be fulfilled in a course related to the area of concentration.  Students must designate at the start of the first term one course as their ‘writing requirement’ course; this course must include writing assignments totaling at least 3,500 words (combined) throughout the course.
  • It may be possible for students to take specific graduate courses in the Philosophy Department in fulfillment of their concentration credits, with the permission of the Associate Dean (Graduate). 

Short Thesis Option with a Concentration in Legal Theory (24 course credits):

If students in the concentration opt to prepare a short thesis of 50-60 pages (15,000 words), they would complete 24 credits in the program.  Students pursuing this option would complete:

  • Alternative Approaches to Legal Scholarship (3 credits) and LLM Seminar (1 credit).
  • A short, 4-credit thesis in a subject related to Legal Theory.
  • At least 8 credits of Legal Theory coursework from an approved list of Legal Theory courses, including the mandatory 3-credit course Foundations of Legal Theory.
  • It may be possible for students to take specific graduate courses in the Philosophy Department in fulfillment of their concentration credits, with the permission of the Associate Dean (Graduate).
  • In addition to a 4-credit thesis, students would take 8 additional credits of coursework, either from the list of Legal Theory courses, or from outside of that list.
  • With the permission of the Associate Dean (Graduate), students can add up to 6 additional credits to the short thesis in lieu of the required concentration course credits.  This option corresponds to that available to all students in a thesis-based LL.M. program (see calendar entry for the LLM program).  Depending on the number of additional thesis credits obtained by the student, there would be a corresponding reduction in the number of course credits required.

Longer Thesis Option with a Concentration in Legal Theory (24 course credits):

If students in the concentration opt to prepare a longer thesis of 150 pages (45,000 words), they would also complete 24 credits in the program.  Students pursuing this option would complete:

  • Alternative Approaches to Legal Scholarship (3 credits) and LLM Seminar (1 credit).
  • A longer, 16-credit thesis in a subject related to Legal Theory.
  • The mandatory 3-credit course Foundations of Legal Theory.
  • Up to 1 additional credits of coursework, either from the approved list of Legal Theory courses, or from outside of that list.