Dear LiL: What advice do you have for an internationally trained lawyer intending to transition from a foreign jurisdiction to practising in Canada?
It is an amazing opportunity to practice law in Canada. It may seem like a daunting and long process to transfer your license to Canada, but internationally trained lawyers (ITLs) bring unique experiences and perspectives to the practice of law. I speak from experience – I have personally lived and implemented every piece of advice in this article. It enabled me to meet amazing mentors and Canadian lawyers who recognized my abilities and who were willing to take a chance on me. It will take hard work and a little bit of luck, but it’s well worth the journey.
Here are a few practical starting points:
1. Confirm your pathway
There are two main pathways for ITLs to transition and become fully licensed Canadian lawyers. You will either sit the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) exams or study a Master of Laws (LLM) program at a Canadian university. Which pathway you take will mostly depend on the jurisdiction you are transferring from and the subjects you took at law school. Every ITL is required to submit an NCA assessment to confirm their education and experience. This assessment will tell you whether you must complete an LLM or whether you have the option of sitting the NCA exams.
Once your NCA exams or LLM is complete, you will begin the Articling process. Depending on your previous legal experience, you will complete up to nine months of practical experience, as well as a legal training course provided by the law society in your Province or Territory. To begin this process, you will submit an Articling application to your desired firms, Government departments, and/or companies offering such positions. It is highly competitive and can be a long process, particularly for ITLs, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a position right away. Once the Articling process is complete, you will be eligible to become a licensed Canadian lawyer.
Expand your Canadian network early. It doesn’t matter if you don’t live in Canada yet! LinkedIn is used by most legal professionals to network and find jobs and resources. If you do not have a LinkedIn profile, start one now. Talk to lawyers in different types of firms, companies, roles and practice areas. Attend events, ask lawyers to meet for a quick coffee, lunch, or Zoom call. Canadian lawyers are generous with their time and are generally willing to help people who are inquisitive and professional. If there is a firm/company/role you think you’d like to work in then ask to speak with the partners, associates and members of staff if you have the opportunity.
3. Market your skills
You come with a rare skillset and experience, so use that to your advantage. Do you speak another language, have you worked with international legal or government bodies, do you understand complex legal processes, have you developed a body of transferable skills? If so, tell people about it!
4. Do not devalue your experience
You have a unique background – and that is a strength. Unfortunately, you may come across a negative perspective against ITLs which remains in small pockets of the profession. You might be told that ITLs are unhireable, as I was told. Ignore it. Let this show you where not to expend your time and energy. ITLs are a valued and welcomed part of the Canadian legal community. Continue networking until you find your people because there are plenty of lawyers, firms and companies who would love to work with you.
5. Give back to the community
An important and wonderful aspect of practicing law in Canada is the emphasis on giving back to our communities. Sharing our time and skills in order to provide greater access to justice is an important part of being a Canadian lawyer. I recommend volunteering in legal aid centers, shelters, and courts, if possible, or other voluntary organizations. Not only will you be helping people in need, but you will also further develop your skills and network.
6. Lastly, be human
We are all somebody outside of practicing law. We all have hobbies, interests, families, and communities. It’s important to maintain a life outside of law and meet other likeminded people in the profession. Sometimes it is these factors that will help you to get your dream job, so don’t be afraid to showcase who you are personally as well as professionally.
About the Author
Grace Smyth-Bolland is an associate with Harper Grey LLP and works with their Business Law Group. Grace joined Harper Grey as an articling student in 2021, completed her articles with the firm and was called to the BC bar in 2022. She completed her law and philosophy degrees at Adelaide University in 2015 and 2016 before immigrating to Canada from Australia in 2017.