(Interview conducted by Adil Abdulla (“AA”) and Crystal Park (“CP”) on April 13, 2023)
AA: Thank you for joining the OBA civil litigation section. Can you tell us about your path through the legal profession?
AW: I’m originally from Florida, and was called to the Florida bar in 2007. I interned at the United Nations, clerked for the Chief Judge of the Third District Court of Appeal, and got an LLM. I worked as a public defender, trying a wide variety of cases, including first degree premeditated murder. Then I moved into civil litigation at a national firm. In 2016, I decided to move to Canada. I wrote the NCA exams, passed the Ontario bar exam, and was called to the Ontario bar in 2017. I landed in Ontario in 2018, by which time I had been practicing for 11 years.
When I arrived, it was like I was starting my career over. I probably applied for 150, maybe 200 jobs. Many of them were for one or two year calls. For two and a half years, I got no interviews. Recruiters refused to put me forward, even for jobs for new calls.
AA: Did you get any explanations for not getting an interview?
AW: I did. Some of the things I heard were “You should not have come here.” “You ruined your career by coming to Canada.” “If your career in Florida was so good, why did you come here?” For some entry level positions, I was told that they couldn’t hire me because I didn’t article. Or that they needed somebody who could hit the ground running, and they didn’t have the time to train me on the differences between American and Canadian law.
AA: That brings us to unconscious bias. People assumed that you did not understand Canadian law because you were trained abroad.
[Note to readers: To be called in a Canadian jurisdiction, internationally trained lawyers must pass NCA assessments, and then pass the licensing requirements for that jurisdiction. For Ontario, the latter includes passing the barrister and solicitor exams and articling. The articling requirement can be waived by the LSO, but only if the candidate shows that they have sufficient comparable experience.]
CP: Were the firms aware that you had proven that you had comparable experience?
AW: Some of them did. Recruiters are certainly educated enough to know that internationally trained lawyers have to prove their substantive knowledge. But some still told me to “sanitize” my resume by getting a Canadian LLM. I already had an LLM, was called to the Ontario bar, and had 11 years of experience, so more substantive learning was so not necessary.
And it’s so easy to adapt to Ontario procedure. 95% of the rules are the same. We use almost the exact same terms. I don’t know all the rule numbers, but if you tell me what the rule is called, I’ve already encountered it. The biggest differences are court processes, which differ from court to court within Ontario. Those you have to figure out all the time.