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Nne Christiana Udo moved to Calgary in 2009 from Nigeria. She had practised law in her native country since 1993. While she wanted a fresh start in a new country, her passion for law never left and she wished to continue practicing.
Christine Little completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary before attending law school abroad at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. Although she had originally intended to stay in Europe, things have a way of changing and she made the decision to return home.
Nick Bryanskiy joined his family in Canada in 2006. His previous education included a Civil Law Degree from Russia and two Master’s Degrees. Despite a “mixed bag” of European education and experience he would have to start from scratch in order to practice law in Alberta.
While the story of each internationally trained lawyer or graduate (ITLs and ITLGs) is unique, the process they must complete in order to become an Alberta lawyer is generally the same. No matter the situation, ITLs and ITLGs must decide if they are ready and willing to take on the challenges ahead.
First and foremost, ITLs and ITLGs without a Canadian common law degree must have their education and experience evaluated by the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA). The NCA is a standing committee of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada with the primary mandate of protecting the public interest by assessing the credentials of individuals who obtained their law degree outside Canada or in a Canadian civil law program.
A national uniform standard is applied to each applicant being assessed. Depending on their qualifications, applicants may be required to complete examinations and/or law school courses, or may not be granted any recognition. The resources section at the end of this article lists programs available to help ITLs and ITLGs fulfill the NCA requirements.
Once completed, a Certificate of Qualification is issued. This certificate is accepted by the Law Society of Alberta as equivalent to having graduated from a Canadian law school. Like graduates of Canadian law schools, there are still significant requirements that need to be successfully completed before becoming licensed to practice law in Alberta.
Nigerian-born lawyer Christiana explained that many internationally trained lawyers, including herself, underestimate the hard work the next steps require. “I got my certificate of equivalency and by 2012 was ready to become a lawyer. But then there was the small thing of articling. That was when I woke up to the real world.”
With more and more ITLs and ITLGs making their way to Alberta, as well as a steady stream of local graduates, there is considerable competition for articling positions.
That said, ITLs and ITLGs are not bound by student recruitment dates. This means the search for articling positions could, and should, begin early. The Law Society of Alberta encourages ITLs and ITLGs to start networking throughout the NCA process.
“When you come in, get visible and make yourself part of the legal community,” described Christiana, recollecting her first-hand experience. “Begin to court the legal community. It’s like courting a bride or courting a girlfriend. You don’t just start off with ‘Will you marry me?’ It’s not going to work ‘cause you have to be in a relationship first. That’s the best way I can describe it.”
Newcomers to Canada often have to work harder to develop a professional network due to language barriers, cultural differences and many other challenges.
ITLs may find the following suggestions helpful in making local legal connections that may lead to an articling opportunity:
- Find a job or temporary position as a legal assistant or a paralegal;
- Contact organizations such as Calgary/Edmonton Regional Immigrant Employment Council (CRIEC/ERIEC);
- Attend CBA sessions for networking opportunities;
- Volunteer at a legal clinic, charities, not-for-profits;
- Get involved in local community events.
It is important to familiarize yourself with the best practices of applying for jobs in Canada and the expectations of employers. These include: cover letter and resume writing, job interview training and workplace etiquette.
“A lot of us immigrants are very certificate conscious but this is a society that thrives on experience and what you know, as opposed to what your paper says. Your NCA certificate is not a magic wand,” said Christiana.
For Canadian students who go to law school abroad, some roots and connections may already be established within the legal community. While Christine counted herself lucky to have prior professional connections, she explained that the perception of going to law school abroad isn’t always positive.
“There is still a rather largely held view in the profession that you went away because you weren’t smart enough to get into law school here and you lack the academic acumen to make it in Canadian law school, so you will have to have some answers prepared for why you went and what your education was like.”
Canadian law students also have the benefit of accessing career counseling services which host job fairs, post job opportunities and offer job application training.
While the Law Society is unable to help ITLs find articles, we want all students-at-law to be aware of the different ways to complete the 12 month articling requirement.
Like Canadian law graduates, ITLs and ITLGs must enroll and complete the mandated program delivered through the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education (CPLED). The application for this program must be completed and submitted directly to the Legal Education Society of Alberta.
ITLs and ITLGs can register for the CPLED program at any time after completing the NCA requirements, even if they do not have articles. However, the CPLED program cannot be started until articles are secured. If undertaking composite articles, the full 12 months do not need to be secured before starting CPLED.
Further details and important dates related to the CPLED program can be found on their website.
Why the Law Society of Alberta is involved with the transitioning of ITLs and ITLGs into the community? We are committed to enhancing access to legal services for all Albertans. The successful integration of foreign-trained lawyers not only adds to the availability of legal services but also accommodates the cultural diversity of our own communities.
As the regulator, it is our role to ensure that high ethical and professional standards are maintained and the public is protected. The process in place for ITLs and ITLGs ensures a consistent standard for all lawyers in the province.
CBA membership available to NCA students or students-at-law.
Career mentorship and networking opportunities for immigrants in the Calgary region.
Career mentorship and networking opportunities for immigrants in the Edmonton region.
Provides confidential help to lawyers, law students and their immediate families with personal issues.