Lawyers-Canada excluding Quebec
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- It is difficult, time consuming and expensive to re-qualify as a lawyer in Canada.
- The process is generally significantly more difficult (at least for British lawyers) than in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
- These difficulties affect Canadian citizens educated outside Canada, as well as immigrants.
- It is essential you consider this before making any commitment to move to Canada.
Evaluation of Credentials
- The first step is to get your legal credentials evaluated by the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA).
- After evaluating your legal credentials, the NCA informs you how many exams you need to sit in order to get the Certificate of Qualification that essentially states that your education is equivalent to that of a graduate of a JD program at a Canadian university.
- Anecdotal accounts on the BE forum suggest that the number of exams that applicants are told they have to write varies a great deal. There will be a minimum of five exams that must be written, and four additional ones which may be assigned, depending on things like how long your degree was (2/3 years), if it was done straight from high school or after another degree, and what grades you got.
Obtaining Certificate of Qualification
- You have three alternatives for reaching the stage at which you would be allowed to serve Articles in Canada:
- You can write the NCA challenge exams as an independent student. It almost certainly will take you a minimum of two years to write the NCA exams, but may take longer (depending on the number of challenge exams you've been told you need to do).
- You can attend a Canadian law school as a non-degree student for a couple of years and complete the courses that the NCA has mandated for you. This process does not lead to a JD, but does result in a Certificate of Qualification. Not all Canadian law schools accept NCA students, however. Some universities offer a specific LLMCL (Master of Common Laws) which is intended to teach Canadian law to foreign-trained lawyers, and meets the NCA requirements.
- You can do a three-year JD at a Canadian university. However, admission to law schools in Canada is extremely competitive, and the cost of tuition can be very high, particularly for international students.
Working while studying
- While you're preparing for the NCA exams, you are not allowed to work as a lawyer in Canada.
- You might work as a paralegal or a law clerk, but this kind of work pays much less than you would have been able to earn if you could have practised as a lawyer from the start.
- Some provinces do not allow you to work as a paralegal. By way of example, paralegal work in Ontario is also a licensed profession which requires applicants to sit exams.
- Forum members who have been through this process recommend that you write your NCA exams before you actually move to Canada. If you do that, at least you can continue to work as a solicitor in the UK while you're preparing for the NCA exams.
- Once you have a Certificate of Qualification, you can apply to a law firm for a position as a student-at-law (articled clerk).
- Availability of articling positions varies a great deal from one province to the next.
- Anecdotal reports on the BE forum suggest that it is extremely difficult to get an articling position in Ontario, but easier to get one in Alberta, just by way of example.
- It also is easier to secure an articling position if you're a law graduate from a Canadian university. Nevertheless, graduates of Canadian universities continue to talk of the 'articling crisis' that particularly affects Ontario, where even Canadian-trained law students often find it difficult to find articles. As an emergency measure, the Law Society of Upper Canada created the Legal Practice Program, which provides equivalent to 'articles' through studying and placements, through Ryerson University in Toronto. The LPP is currently planned to continue until at least April 2020.
Call to the Bar
- In addition to serving Articles, the student has to pass a Provincial Bar Exam before he/she can be called to the Bar.
- The requirements differ from province to province and the timing complicates matters for students.
- In Ontario, most firms require the student to enter the Licensing Process and sit the Provincial Bar Exam prior to commencing Articles. Depending upon when the student completes the NCA exams, this can delay entry into the legal profession by another year.
- Each province has its own Law Society, and each Law Society prescribes slightly different requirements for the practice of law.
- However, if you read the web page entitled Career Map for Internationally Trained Lawyers, which is published by the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, it will give you a general idea of what you need to do to re-qualify as a lawyer in Canada.
- While the rest of Canada's legal system is based on English Common Law, Quebec's legal system is based on Civil Law (the Napoleonic Code).
- It is essential to be fluent in French to be able to practise law in Quebec.
- This author has not researched the requirements for practising law in Quebec. This article addresses the practice of law in the rest of Canada.
Alternatives to re-qualification
- There are some alternatives to re-qualification which may allow you to use your foreign legal expertise without necessarily becoming Canadian qualified
- It may be possible to practice the law of your home country in Canada:
- Either by providing consultant or in-house services to Canadian lawyers, or remotely to practitioners in your home country
- This may be an option particularly if you are specialised in particular areas of law, such as corporate law, estate law or immigration law.
- Some provinces may require you to register as a "foreign lawyer" if you are providing services of this nature, although it may depend on what exactly you are doing.
- Alternative career paths where a legal background may help (without needing to be Canadian qualified), if you want to switch career tracks:
- Human resources
- Health and safety
- For more numerate lawyers, tax or financial planning consultancy
- Financial services compliance
- Immigration consultant is another regulated profession. See Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants and Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants
- Some American states may allow you to do the state bar exam as a non-resident and become American qualified. However, this will generally not assist you to become Canadian qualified (NAFTA provisions do not generally apply in this area) and if you take this option, it will still generally restrict you to practicing foreign law.