How to practice law in Canada as an internationally trained lawyer

How to practice law in Canada as an internationally trained lawyer

Are you an internationally trained lawyer looking to practice in Canada? If yes, then continue reading this blog.

In this blog, we will discuss how foreign-trained lawyers can continue to practice as an attorney in Canada. It’s important to note that each province in Canada has a different process for foreign lawyers, and we will mainly focus on the province of Ontario’s accreditation process.

Please be advised that this article aims to provide general information to foreign lawyers who want to be accredited as an attorney in Canada by reflecting on general information on the common law system, legal degrees, accreditation process and licensing process of the Law Society of Ontario. Although the process of becoming a lawyer in Canada is generally the same in all provinces (except Quebec), with some minor differences, this process is unique based on the circumstances of each applicant.

First, it is essential to know the type of legal system practiced in Canada, which is the Common Law system. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, the United States, India, and New Zealand also have a Common Law system. The Common Law system originated in England and was inherited by Canada as a British colony. This type of legal system relies on past cases and decisions. Under this system, the court is urged to treat similar cases alike and rely on precedents unless a change of decision is needed.

Among the above-mentioned Common Law countries, Canada is distinctive because it is the only Bijural country, meaning that there are two legal traditions within a single state. In Canada, the province of Quebec practices civil law while other provinces practice the common law system. In a civil law system, a judge merely relies on the facts of a case and applies remedies that exist in the codified law in which precedents only have a referential value. It is useful to understand the differences between these law systems to avoid any issues that foreign lawyers may face in the course of their accreditation process.

First, let’s discuss how to enter Canadian law schools with no legal education:

how to enter Canadian law schools with no legal education

The first requirement to enter the field of law is to have a bachelor’s degree. After completing your undergraduate studies, you should apply to enter law school for completing your Juris Doctor/ Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree (J.D.), also known as the first degree of law. Some law schools will accept the completion of a three-year bachelor’s degree, however, given the competitiveness of law school admissions, this may lower the applicant’s chances, but again, it all depends on the overall academic profile of the applicant.

One of the most important factors in your law school application is your LSAT score. The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is held up six times a year and is a very competitive test that examines the applicant’s level of comprehension, logic and analytical thinking.

Each law school accepts different minimum LSAT scores. Some students are eligible for three years of education to get a J.D. degree. After graduating with your J.D., applicants must pass the bar exam of their province and complete their internship called “articling”. If they pass the bar successfully, lawyers can only practice within the limits of the bar’s authority because becoming a bar member is different from one province to another.

Foreign lawyers who did not obtain their law degree in Canada have to undergo the accreditation process to practice law in Canada.

Just like Canadian students, internationally educated lawyers must at least have an undergraduate degree, to begin with. The Accreditation process is overseen by the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA). The NCA is a committee that works under the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. The evaluation of whether or not a foreign law graduate is accredited in Canada is exclusively carried out by the NCA.

All applicants must meet the Federation’s national requirements and standards which applies to all graduates of Canadian Common Law programs.

If the applicant meets the NCA requirements, it is certified that they have the needed understanding and knowledge of Canadian law equivalent to that of a Canadian common law program graduate. The main areas that the NCA measures are as follows:

  • Canadian Administrative Law
  • Canadian Constitutional Law
  • Canadian Criminal Law
  • Foundation of Canadian Law
  • Canadian Professional Responsibility
  • Contracts (Core subject)
  • Torts (Core subject)
  • Property (Core subject)

After completing an assessment by the NCA, the applicants have the opportunity to demonstrate competency in one of the following assigned subject areas:

  1. By completing NCA challenge exams;
  2. By completing assigned subjects at a Canadian law school.
  3. By combining options 1 and 2; meaning they can meet some assigned requirements by writing NCA challenge exams and the remaining by completing some courses at a Canadian law school.

Completing the accreditation process can be much more challenging for lawyers who have graduated and practiced in a country that did not have a Common Law Jurisdiction. That’s why most of these individuals opt into obtaining a Master of Laws (L.L.M) degree from a Canadian law school.  This program is a postgraduate level law education, and it is open to individuals holding an undergraduate law degree (J.D.) who wish to specialize in a specific area of law. This program usually takes about a year and a half to complete.

The following universities are the only three law schools in Canada that provide L.L.M programs that are specifically designed to meet the requirements of the NCA process:

  1. GPLLM at the University of Toronto
  2. Common-Law L.L.M at the University of York (Osgood Hall School of Law)
  3. The Master of Laws at the University of British Columbia (Peter A. Allard Law School).

Completing an L.L.M program is beneficial because by graduating from the L.L.M program, the applicant will satisfy the NCA requirements and receive a postgraduate degree from a Canadian law school by graduating from the L.L.M program.

Each university has its own unique requirements to consider applicants for admission. The following are some general prerequisites of applying to Canadian law schools that we have mentioned above:

  • Bachelor’s degree with a GPA of at least B
  • Language Test Results for those who have an undergraduate degree in another language other than English; TOEFL/IELTS (minimum score of 100 for TOEFL and 7.5 for IELTS Academic)
  • Official Academic Transcripts and Diplomas
  • Statement of Purpose / Personal Statement (this letter is considered as a first impression by the committee since this is the first letter that they read to consider your application
  • Updated Resume (CV)
  • Two Reference Letters

After having a Certificate of Qualification by the NCA, one must write and pass the provincial bar exam and complete their articling or the Law Practice Program (Ontario).

A J.D. graduate or the NCA accredited person must successfully complete four steps to be licensed to practice law in Ontario.

  1. Pass the Barrister Licensing Exam
  2. Complete the Experiential Training (10-month Articling Process (internship) or Law Practice Program (LPP))
  3. Prove a Good Character
  4. Be Called to the Bar of Ontario (become licensed)

In most cases, the ones who are completing L.L.M programs are unable to take the bar exam in the June sitting because it takes some time for the NCA to review their transcripts and issue a Certificate of Qualification. Keep in mind that having a Certificate of Qualification is a prerequisite for foreign lawyers to be able to begin their licensing process in the law societies of Canada.

having a Certificate of Qualification is a prerequisite for foreign lawyers in canada

Overall, the process of becoming an accredited lawyer is not easy. The reason is that, especially in Canada, being a lawyer is one of the most important building blocks of society. Malpractice of the laws can cause unbearable consequences for the client.

The process of practicing law in Canada as a foreign-trained lawyer can be lengthy and challenging. This process is not an immigration process and it is a distinct provincial process. However, accredited foreign lawyers can offer a lot since most of them can practice in at least two countries, and introduce a new market for law firms, especially in a multicultural city like Toronto.

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