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“The face of struggle” is what Nne Christiana Udo light heartedly labelled herself after recollecting her journey to becoming an Alberta lawyer.
Christiana was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1993. She moved to Canada in 2009 and only resumed practicing law in December 2014. This five year hiatus was not due to a lack of effort.
Christiana was assessed four of the possible 13 exams to write by the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA). She believes similarities between the common law systems of Canada and Nigeria provided her with an advantage in the evaluation of her education and experience. After passing all her exams, she received her certificate of qualification in 2012 and was ready to officially become an Alberta lawyer.
“That was when I woke up to the real world. What I did, and what most people I see do, is that you kind of neglect the legal community and want to barge in at some point. That’s when they let you know that no, it doesn’t work that way,” described Christiana.
Her search for articles led her to pursue job shadowing, volunteering and mentoring opportunities through organizations such as Calgary Legal Guidance and the Calgary Regional Immigration Employment Counsel. Eventually, her inability to find articles forced her into a new direction.
Upon researching her options, Christiana discovered that the Law Society of Upper Canada grants exemption of articles for internationally trained lawyers who can prove sufficient legal experience. Her exemption bid was successful but she was still required to write a Barrister/Solicitor licensing exam in order to be called the Ontario Bar.
While this route worked for Christiana, she emphasizes that it is definitely not the easy way out. “These are gruelling exams. Seven hour exams. It was like a culmination of everything you ever learned as a lawyer. It’s not a joke. Don’t just run off to somewhere else. Your best bet will be to stick around your province, work hard and try to find articles.”
The national mobility agreement, established by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, provided the ability for Christiana to transfer back to Alberta. Once again, she faced further challenges with processing of paperwork and arranging another Bar call. Christiana added that the differences in legal practice between the jurisdictions of Ontario and Alberta, led to, yet another, learning curve.
“The only thing that helped me was that prior to going to Ontario I was working in a law firm and job shadowing. They kindly let me in and that way I kept abreast with what happens in an Alberta law firm. While I didn’t article, I still got a chance to see the inner workings of an Alberta law firm.”
After going through a great deal to get to where she is today, Christiana has started her own law firm. She has been fueled by the hardships faced along the way.
“If I have struggled this hard and done all this I don’t want to necessarily just sit behind a table and wade through files. I want to bring something back. I find that I easily connect with people. I come from a perspective and background of a country that is not as developed as Canada.”
Christiana’s final message to other internationally trained lawyers serves as good advice to those entering the Alberta legal profession and a good reminder to those already practicing.
“Being a lawyer here is a privilege that carries a lot of responsibilities,” finished Christiana. “I knew this wasn’t just going to be about the money. There has to be something more that would justify all that I had to go through for this license to practice.”