I arrived in Toronto for the first time a year ago after completing an LLB from London, England. Compared to London, I love how avant-garde firms here are towards students; they routinely seek to involve us in activities and mentoring opportunities. For example, we are regularly invited to attend diverse networking events with different themes (like dos and don’ts in an interview) and focus (like subject specific events for those interested in IP, corporate or real estate law for example) that are not limited to the traditional networking events so popular in London.
Also, I have had the valuable opportunity of taking on a more official role through my OBA membership by being Newsletter Editor for the Young Lawyers Division - a role I would have been unlikely to ever occupy in hierarchical London. I have found that the OBA itself is also a more accessible society for students than most legal societies in London.
When I arrived in multicultural Toronto the thought had never crossed my mind that my candidacy for an articling position would not be as valued as other JD students.
However, I was disappointed to see that in the Toronto legal profession, while the level of inclusion in towards students is in many ways more progressive, the attitude taken towards NCA students (students that have either qualified as a lawyer abroad, or have gone to law school abroad and must obtain their accreditation through the National Committee on Accreditation) is still backwards. When I arrived in multicultural Toronto the thought had never crossed my mind that my candidacy for an articling position would not be as valued as other JD students. As a result, I was stunned when at a mentoring event I was explicitly told it was better to “go back” to my country or the country I earned my law degree in, as I would never find an articling position in Toronto. How ironic, I had thought, since that very lawyer had come from abroad to practice law in Toronto many years ago.
Another lawyer compared my attempt at finding a summer position to the experience the movie character Benjamin Button had. It seemed “unnatural” to this lawyer that someone who had already graduated from law school was attempting to enter the second year student program. Unfortunately, it is the only way NCA students can article with some firms who only hire their articling students from their pool of summer students. If the Law Society allows NCA students to apply for summer positions why is it not more widely accepted? In my opinion, it is this way of thinking – pushing NCA students into a ‘box’ - that prevents NCA candidates from participating fully in the legal community.
NCA students also have hurdles at a more official level. For example, they do not have access to on-campus interviews (OCIs) and must wait until the hiring process has reached the second round of interviews (the in-firm interviews) to get called for summer positions. This might lead some legal recruiters to be less inclined to take risks on NCA candidates because they have one less interview by which to get to know candidates.
Furthermore, NCA students enrolled in a Masters program to obtain their Canadian equivalency cannot sit the June Barrister exams as the deadline for submitting the Certificate of Qualification from the NCA is earlier then the JD deadline for submitting their grades. This means NCA students must wait until November to sit the exams, when articling has usually begun.
Through my Canadian Common Law Masters of Law, at Osgoode Hall Law School I have had the pleasure of meeting astounding and gifted individuals who were also working hard to convert their foreign law degrees to a Canadian law degree. While I have found an articling position at a great firm that values the experiences and education I have received, it saddens me to think of all the barriers and discouraging comments my classmates will also have to face - regardless of how accomplished they are. For example, it is unsettling to see how many firms on nalpcanada.com have decided simply not to consider NCA candidates at all. While others may consider NCA students, they clearly make it more difficult for NCA candidates to apply to their Firm because of the way the OCI schedule currently works. However, there are progressive firms: for example, Dentons has reserved an articling spot that can only be filled by an internationally trained lawyer going through the NCA process.
Why is it that it is the choices of these students that are scrutinized and not the reasons behind those choices?
I understand there is some discomfort felt towards Canadian NCA students who have left Canada to study law abroad because they did not find a place in Canadian law schools. Why is it that it is the choices of these students that are scrutinized and not the reasons behind those choices? In any event if that is really the case, why is no distinction being acknowledged between the different types of NCA students? On top of the ones that have a first degree from Canada and have gone abroad to complete their law degree in two years, there are those who, like me, have three years of law school and have never lived in Canada, and there are the lawyers who have years of experience in their home jurisdictions and have emigrated to Canada.
As a final note, while I have dual Canadian citizenship, it should be remembered that Canada’s immigration policy is not as strict to foreigners as other developed English speaking countries like the UK or the US. So regardless of the discomfort felt in the legal sector, NCA candidates will keep arriving in Canada to seek employment in the legal sector. It is a shame that the attitude some firms have towards foreign candidates is at odds with Canada’s overall position of inclusion towards immigrants in Canadian society.
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About the Author
Miriam El-Ofir has just completed her LLM at Osgoode Hall Law School and is the Newsletter Editor for the OBA Young Lawyer's Central Division.