Canadian Law is based on the same Common Law principles as that of the UK, making it easy to transfer your DMU Law degree back to Canada in order to practise law there. You must obtain a Certificate of Accreditation from the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) before you will be able to practise law in Canada.
Over the past decade or so, the landscape of new lawyers, at least in Ontario, has dramatically changed. Today, based on at least anecdotal evidence, a sizeable portion of new lawyers obtain their law degrees from a foreign university with far lower admission and graduation academic standards than those required by Canadian universities.
Canadian students who do not get accepted to a law school in a Canadian university have an easier path for acceptance to a foreign university with significantly lower academic entrance and graduation standards. Upon graduation, they can return to Canada and qualify for admission to practice law in one of the Canadian provinces.
In my respectful opinion, the low re-qualification standards for foreign-educated Canadian law students are not in the public interest.
Getting admission to a law school in one of the Canadian provinces in not easy. I think it is safe to say that, generally, in order to be admitted to a Canadian law school, a student needs to have strong academic credentials (indeed, excellent credentials in many law schools) and probably at least an acceptable performance on the difficult Law School Admission Test (called “LSAT”), which is a standardized test required for admission to all qualifying law schools in North America.
I graduated with an LL.B. (a bachelor of laws) from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto almost 20 years ago, in 1996. In those days, I believe that the vast majority of newly admitted lawyers (at least in Ontario) graduated with a similar LL.B. from a Canadian law school, i.e., not from a foreign law school.
These days, many Canadian law schools have changed the name of their law degree from an LL.B. to a J.D., which stands for Juris Doctor, to be more in line with how qualifying U.S. law schools call those degrees, and to signify that these degrees are typically graduate-level where students already have an undergraduate degree before entering law school.
This past Saturday, while reading the weekend edition of the Globe and Mail, I came across a large three quarter page advertisement for an LLB program that the University of Surrey in the U.K. offers to Canadian students. The link that the advertisement provides states: “At the University of Surrey, our law programs are designed to cater to the needs of Canadian students.”
This program, and likely many others like it, aims at Canadians who seek admission to that program (presumably attractive for at least those who are otherwise unable to gain admission to a Canadian law school), and return to Canada where those students can go through a requalification process to obtain a licence to practice law.
The University of Surrey claims on its website to be one of the top universities in the U.K. for student satisfaction and employability. I have no reason to doubt it and that is admirable. However, I was astonished at the low levels for admission to such a program and subsequent Canadian requalification standards:
– Students are not required to write the LSAT to seek admission to this law program. I suppose this means that reading and analytical comprehension based on standardized North American levels matter not.
- Academic performance from high school or university in the range of only B Minus, or between 75 per cent to 70 per cent, is required to seek admission to this law program.
- Upon returning to Canada with their U.K. LLB, students have to apply to the National Accreditation Committee (NCA), which includes writing a number of exams. To qualify, students are required to graduate from the LLB program in the U.K. with only a 50 per cent overall average grade!
- Similarly, students who complete a two-year LLB program are required to write seven NCA exams in Canada upon their return to Canada. The required passing average grade of these NCA exams is also 50 per cent. And students are not require to complete exams in those courses as long as they pass those modules with at least a 50 per cent grade.
These dismal academic standards that the NCA sets for re-qualification by foreign law students (many of whom appear to be Canadians) is likely related to what I have observed to be the increasingly low competency level of a growing number of new lawyers. This is a real concern. Some new lawyers do not appear to possess the necessary understanding of applicable law and the prevailing legal standards of practice and procedure in various common areas of practice.
The issue is not necessarily with foreign law school admission and graduation standards, but Canadian standards for admission to the legal profession — what is required to qualify as a lawyer in a Canadian province.
The admission requirements to the legal profession in Ontario, and likely in other Canadian provinces, should be substantially raised, including the re-qualification standards of foreign law degrees and provincial bar exams.
Whether as a result of different criteria of legal education outside of Canada, the lack of adequate articling, training and mentorship, bar entrance standards, or a combination of some or all of these factors, a seemingly growing number of newly admitted lawyers do not appear to have the requisite knowledge, understanding and skills to competently handle some files. And many do not have the necessary supervision by experienced lawyers.
The concerns about competency levels of some newly admitted lawyers also increases the cost for lawyers to resolve cases, whether transactional or litigation. Attempts to process a file in an efficient manner are hampered when faced with a newly minted lawyer on the other side of a file who lacks the requisite knowledge. This ends up driving the costs of processing a file, i.e, clients’ cost of legal work.
We need to have a better understanding of different criteria of law school education outside of Canada, how the lack of adequate articling and training affects the required skills of new entrants, and how bar examinations entrance standards should be changed accordingly.
Ultimately, the entrance standards to the legal profession (at least in Ontario) need to be significantly raised. Doing so is in the best interests of the Ontario public, and more broadly, Canadians. The public and the administration of justice will benefit from higher entrance standards for newly admitted lawyers.
Discover How Law Qualifications from the UK Transfer Back to Canada!
Did you know that an increasing number of Canadian students head to the UK each year for the excellent Law Programs at a variety of universities? Do you know that there are many advantages to doing so including applying for a 3 year LLB DIRECTLY from high school or being able to complete an Accelerated Law Program (JD Pathway) in just 2 year? But what happens when you come back home?
UK Law qualifications are readily transferrable to being back in Canada. Generally, depending upon your program, you may be required to write a series of small exams upon your return (approximately 5 to 8) before writing the Bar Exam which is required of all law students in Canada. If you do not wish to write the exam series, you can also do an LLM either in Canada or the UK. Hear from one former student at the University of Southampton now practicing in Toronto:
UK Law programs offer excellent support to Canadian students both academically and personally. They also offer an international education which is valued by employers and the opportunity to travel during your free time. Barclay Educational has successfully been sending students overseas for Law for more than a decade. Hear from one recent Law student at Southampton about how Barclay can help:
There are STILL a number of spots available for Law with classes which begin in Fall 2022! Are you interested in being part of them? Contact Jackie at [email protected] OR head to the Contact Page on our website https://barclayedu.com/ Our services are FREE to students. Get in touch today and begin your adventure studying Law overseas!
Reasons for moving to Canada as a lawyer
As an internationally-educated lawyer, settling in Canada can be an attractive opportunity for a variety of reasons including:
Lawyers earn high salaries in Canada
Although salaries for lawyers vary based on province, experience, and area of practice, lawyers across Canada generally earn a high salary. The median income for lawyers and Quebec notaries (both fall under NOC 41101, previously 4112) in Canada is $116,940 per year.
Lawyers face good job prospects in Canada
Job opportunities for lawyers and Quebec notaries are considered good in every province and territory according to the Government’s Job Bank, except in Ontario and Northwest Territories, where prospects are fair. Across Canada, the supply and demand for lawyers is expected to be balanced over the next several years with job openings being relatively equal to qualified applicants, including new immigrants.
Canada welcomes newcomers with in-demand skills and qualifications to apply for permanent residence (PR). There are several PR programs you can choose from to move to Canada as a lawyer.
Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program
The Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program is an Express Entry stream that allows skilled internationally qualified workers to immigrate to Canada. Under this program, applicants are selected for PR based on their Comprehensive Ranking Score (CRS) rather than their profession.
Your CRS score is based on factors such as your age, education, work experience, language proficiency, and other factors. You also get additional points if you have a Canadian job offer, a provincial nomination (see below section on PNP), or Canadian work experience or educational credentials.
Most Canadian provinces and territories, except Quebec and Nunavut, have Provincial Nominee Programs that allow them to nominate applicants who can help bridge labour shortages. After you choose the province you wish to move to, you may be able to apply for PNP directly (paper-based application) or through the federal Express Entry program.
While some provinces use CRS scores to shortlist applicants, others nominate skilled professionals for National Occupation Classification (NOC) codes with pressing labour demands. In such cases, you may have a better chance of receiving a provincial nomination if the province is looking for lawyers (NOC 41101, previously 4112, TEER 1).
|PNP streams for lawyers
|B.C. Skills Immigration – Skilled Worker Stream: For candidates with a permanent job offer in B.C. in a NOC TEER 0, 1, 2, or 3 (previously skill type 0 or skill level A or B) job. This stream also has an Express Entry option.
|Alberta Express Entry Stream: For qualified candidates from the Express Entry pool.Alberta Opportunity Stream: For qualified candidates who live and work in Alberta and have a job offer from an Alberta employer.
|Express Entry Human Capital Priorities: For skilled workers with Express Entry profiles and required work experience, education, and language skills.Express Entry French-Speaking Skilled Worker: For French-speaking skilled workers with Express Entry profiles and required work experience, education, and language skills.OINP Employer Job Offer – Foreign Worker Stream: For skilled foreign workers with a full-time offer for a NOC TEER 0, 1, 2, or 3 (previously skill type 0 or skill level A or B) job in Ontario.
|Skilled Workers in Manitoba: For skilled workers with a long-term, full-time job in Manitoba, who have been working with that company for at least six months.Skilled Workers Overseas: For experienced foreign workers with skills needed in the local labour market and an established connection with the province.
|Nova Scotia Express Entry Labour Market Priorities: For foreign workers in the Express Entry system who meet Nova Scotia’s labour market needs.Skilled Worker Stream: For foreign skilled workers and recent graduates with a full-time, permanent job offer from a Nova Scotia employer.
|Skilled Workers Stream: For experienced foreign workers with skills, education, and work experience needed in the local labour market and an offer of a full-time position.
|International Skilled Worker – Employment Offer: For qualified candidates with an employment offer in NOC TEER 0, 1, 2, or 3 (previously skill type 0 or skill level A or B) and are eligible for Saskatchewan licensing (lawyers are regulated)Note: Lawyers and Quebec Notaries are excluded from SINP Express Entry streams and Occupations-In-Demand programs.
|Newfoundland and Labrador
|NL Express Entry Skilled Worker: For qualified candidates with a high-skilled job or job offer from an NL employer.Skilled Worker: For qualified candidates with a job offer with skills beneficial to the labour market, and have accreditation required for the job.
|Prince Edward Island
|PEI PNP Express Entry: For qualified candidates in the Express Entry system.Skilled Worker Outside PEI Stream: For qualified applicants with a job offer from a PEI employer in a NOC TEER 0, 1, 2, or 3 (previously skill type 0 or skill level A or B) occupation.
|Northwest Territories – Express Entry Stream: For qualified candidates with an Express Entry profile.Skilled Worker Stream: For qualified individuals with the formal education, qualifications, and experience to bridge labour market shortages.
|Yukon Express Entry (YEE): For Express Entry applicants who have a full-time and year-round job offer from an eligible Yukon employer.Skilled Worker: For applicants with a full-time job offer from an eligible Yukon employer in a NOC TEER 0, 1, 2, or 3 (previously skill type 0 or skill level A or B) occupation.
How to become a licensed lawyer as a newcomer
As an internationally-qualified lawyer, you must become a member of a law society in Canada before you can practice law in a province or territory. However, to do this, you first need to earn a Certificate of Qualification issued by the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA). The Certificate of Qualification qualifies you for the bar admissions program in every province or territory, except Quebec (which practices civil law instead of common law). The time and effort required to become a licensed lawyer will vary by individual and is based on your education, work experience, and fluency in English or French.
Who can apply to earn a Certificate of Qualification from the NCA?
All internationally trained legal graduates can apply, including if you are considering immigrating to Canada or are a newcomer with a law degree from your home country. You can apply from anywhere in the world. Your citizenship, nationality, and where you live do not matter in the assessment process. Because this process can take some time, it’s ideal to apply before arriving in Canada. Use the NCA’s self-assessment before proceeding with your application for additional guidance on what to expect in your individual case.
If you want to practice civil law in Quebec, you must undergo evaluation by Barreau du Québec (for lawyers) or the Chambre des notaires du Québec (for Quebec notaries). The NCA does not assess the legal education and experience of people who want to practice civil law in Canada, or who want to become members of the Barreau du Québec or the Chambre des notaires du Québec.
For the NCA to assess your education and experience, you must complete a three-year qualifying law degree. A qualifying law degree allows you to practise in the jurisdiction where you studied, provided you successfully completed the bar admission process. If the school is approved by the organization that governs the practice of law in your jurisdiction, the NCA will generally recognize it. The only way to accurately ascertain your eligibility is to apply for an assessment by the NCA. Here’s an outline of how the process works:
Complete your online assessment application
Once you’ve decided to pursue a Certificate of Qualification, you need to complete an online assessment application through the NCA. You’ll be assigned a file number and a password to access your candidate profile and track the status of your application.
As part of your application, you will need to provide additional documentation, including:
- All original documents for courses completed during your pre-law university level education, if applicable. Your original or official pre-law university transcripts may be mailed to the NCA from you personally, or from your university.
- All official documents and transcripts for courses completed in an approved law program, and courses or examinations completed in a licensing process. Official transcripts for your legal education must be sent directly by your school. The NCA does not accept these documents directly from applicants.
- If currently or formerly licensed, documentation outlining the date you were called to the bar and your status as a member in good standing in the relevant jurisdiction . You must arrange for an official letter or certificate of good standing to be sent to the NCA by the bar association or bar council.
- An updated curriculum vitae outlining your qualifications.
- Additional documents that NCA considers necessary to assess your qualifications.
Translation of documents
If your documents are in a language other than English or French, they must be sent to the NCA along with copies of an exact English or French translation completed by a Canadian certified translator, or a non-certified translator with an affidavit indicating the translator’s qualifications and that the translation is of the original document.
Have your application evaluated by the NCA
Each application is evaluated on an individual basis by the NCA to determine eligibility for a Certificate of Qualification. As an applicant, you must demonstrate you have acquired the competencies and skills equivalent to those required of graduates of approved Canadian common law programs, as set out in the National Requirement.
Complete your assignments as prescribed by the NCA
Once the NCA finishes its assessment of your application, you’ll receive a letter that describes the legal education (assignments) you need to complete to ensure your knowledge of Canadian common law is equivalent to that of someone who got their law degree in Canada. This assessment decision is valid for five years from the date of issue.
As an applicant, you’re required to demonstrate competence in eight common law knowledge areas, known as core subjects, that have Canadian-specific content: Canadian Administrative Law, Canadian Constitutional Law, Canadian Criminal Law, Canadian Professional Responsibility, Foundations of Canadian Law, Contracts, Property, and Torts. This may be achieved through one of three paths:
- Write and pass NCA exams, or
- Complete assigned subjects at a Canadian law school, or
- Complete a combination of one and two to meet some requirements by writing NCA exams, and the remaining by completing courses at a Canadian law school.
Legal research requirement
If your qualifications are assessed after January 1, 2022, you will also need to complete a course in legal research and writing offered by an approved Canadian common law program or through the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education (CPLED).
If you’re an internationally trained lawyer without common law experience
The legal tradition you studied will impact your assessment, however the NCA considers applicants from legal systems without a substantial common law component on a case-by-case basis. If you have no common law exposure, you are not likely to receive any recognition for your legal education and experience and may need to complete an LLM program or enrol in individual courses to proceed in the NCA assessment process.
If you earned your education and experience in a mixed jurisdiction that includes common law, the NCA will consider the common law content of your programs and experience. You can gain the required common law exposure that you lack by:
- taking an LLM program or enrolling in individual courses.
- being licensed as a lawyer, barrister, or solicitor in a common law jurisdiction through successful completion of courses or exams.
- being certified as a paralegal or notary in a common law jurisdiction.
The NCA will reconsider your file once you successfully complete at least four common law subjects at which time it will assign you the courses you still need to take to earn the Certificate of Qualification.
Write NCA examinations
You may register for NCA examinations only after receiving an assessment decision from the NCA indicating your eligibility. You’re permitted to write an NCA examination up to three times within five years of the assessment decision.
Once you’ve successfully completed all the assignments (including exams) outlined in your assessment decision, you will be issued your Certificate of Qualification. At this point, you’re eligible to apply for entry to the bar admissions program in any province or territory (except Quebec).
How long does it take to earn a Certificate of Qualification?
According to the NCA, the average time to get your Certificate of Qualification is two years from the time you apply for your assessment. Gathering documents typically takes two to six weeks, but may be longer if you earned your law degree over ten years ago or in a country where administration is not efficient.
The NCA assessment can take six to eight weeks, followed by the completion of your assignments. While you have five years to complete your assignments, the NCA offers 10 months as the minimum amount of time it takes. Keep in mind this is dependent on the number of assignments you must complete, the number of attempts to pass your exams, and personal obligations.
Every lawyer in Canada is required by law to be a member of a law society. Canada has 14 provincial and territorial law societies that govern over 136,000 lawyers across Canada, 4,200 notaries in Quebec, and 10,600 independent paralegals in Ontario. (Ontario is the only province that requires paralegals to be licensed). Each law society is established by provincial and territorial law and ensures that legal professionals in its jurisdiction meet high standards of competence and professional conduct.
Applying to a law society is the final step to being able to practice as a lawyer. To become a member of a law society, you must review the requirements for the province or territory you wish to practice in. Once you’ve applied and registered with the law society in the province or territory you wish to practice, the licensing process begins. Most provinces allow you to start the licensing process virtually from outside Canada, however, finding remote articling work may be difficult. Refer to the list of the Law Societies in Canada for details:
- Law Society of Alberta
- Law Society of British Columbia
- Law Society of Manitoba
- Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador
- Law Society of New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society
- Law Society of Ontario
- Barreau du Québec
- Chambre des notaires du Québec
- Law Society of Prince Edward Island
- Law Society of Saskatchewan
- Law Society of Yukon
- Law Society of the Northwest Territories
- Law Society of Nunavut
Articling requirements vary among law societies and you may be able to apply for an exemption in some circumstances. For example, the Ontario Law Society offers the option to attend the Law Practice Program (LPP) in lieu of articling, and if you’ve practiced law in another jurisdiction, you may apply for exemption from both articling and the LPP.
If you’re required to complete an articling component, you must apply to become an articled clerk through your law society and arrange an articling placement. As a clerk, your work must be supervised by a principal—a lawyer or law firm that agrees to train and supervise your work as an articled clerk.
Students may be required to write examinations before being called to the bar, however this will vary among law societies. For example, the Practice Readiness Education Program (PREP) is the official bar admission program for the law societies of Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, and is mandatory for students applying to the bar in any of these law societies. In British Columbia, the Professional Legal Training Course (PLTC) is the law society’s bar admission course and is part of its admission program, whereas in Ontario, students are required to write the barrister and solicitor examinations. Generally, the examinations can be written while you’re articling.
Become licensed to practice law
After completing all the law society’s requirements including articling, exams, paying fees, as well as being judged to be of good character, you’re eligible to be licensed to practise law and to attend a call to the bar ceremony.