An American Lawyer’s NCA Journey

My story is a bit different from many NCA students.  I’m American and had a successful career in the U.S. before embarking on this process in June 2017.  I knew very few people in Toronto at the time; none of whom were lawyers.  I had to figure this out completely on my own.  It all started with a vague Google search to the effect of: “American lawyer in Canada.”  I found a couple of blog posts from others who had gone through the process, but not much else.  I am forever grateful to those bloggers, and I want to pay it forward and hopefully help others by sharing my experience.  In an effort to make this as helpful as possible, I want to give a timeline and overview of what the process looked like for me, and perhaps follow up with additional posts about specific hurdles I faced.

But first, you might be wondering a bit about me and why on earth I decided to leave my life and career in the U.S. behind.  I graduated from law school in 2012 and took the New York bar exam.  After working in NYC for two years, I moved to Washington, D.C. and joined an incredible legal services organization.  I had been happily working there for three years when my fiancé (now husband) and I took a weekend trip to Toronto.  We fell in love with the city and met some amazing people who would soon become some of our closest friends.  We returned home starry-eyed and wondering if we could really be those Americans who actually moved to Canada.  I was hesitant to say the least.  I loved my job, and I thought I had my future all planned out.  Not to mention the amount of time, effort and money it would cost to get licensed in Ontario.  Nonetheless, after much contemplation, we committed to the idea and I got to work.

  • Apply for FLSC assessment of legal credentials (June 2017)

The very first step was to apply to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada for an assessment of my legal credentials.  This a detailed application and requires submission of all academic transcripts (including high school), which must be sent from the academic institution directly to FLSC.

Cost: $450 CAD plus associated fees for requesting transcripts and other documents

  • Apply for articling positions (July 2017)

My Google research led me to learn about the articling requirement.  This is not something that is required in the U.S. – once you graduate from law school in the U.S. and pass a state bar you are free to practice law. The articling requirement is heavily regulated by the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) and most positions can only be advertised and interviewed for during a very specific time period each year.  Luckily, for me, the timing was just right.  I spent my July 4 holiday weekend applying to many, many articling positions for the 2018-2019 cycle.

  • Receive FLSC assessment and register for NCA exams (July 2017)

I got my assessment about six weeks after submitting my application.  I was required to take the five core NCA exams and I registered to take all five exams in October 2017.

Cost: $1,700 CAD ($340 per exam) plus travel costs (flight, hotel and food for one week)

  • Articling interviews in Toronto (August 2017)

I traveled to Toronto for interviews for two articling positions.  Neither position worked out, but after meeting with attorneys at these firms I decided that I should apply for an exemption from the articling requirement based on my work experience in the U.S.

  • Write 5 NCA exams in Toronto (October 2017)

I had read about people splitting up their exams, but I wanted to get this process done as quickly as possible.  I studied for the exams from August to October while working full-time.  I studied for a couple of hours in the early morning before work, during commutes, and/or in the evenings, plus weekends.  Then, I spent my final week of vacation that year in a dingy airport hotel near the testing center and wrote one exam per day for five days.  It was like law school finals week all over again!

  • Apply for LSO licensing process / consult immigration lawyer (November 2017)

After writing the NCA exams, the next step is to apply for the LSO licensing process, which covers everything required to become a licensed attorney (articling, barrister and solicitor exams, good character, etc.).  I filled out the application and was ready to submit it, until I got to the page that said you need to submit a copy of your Canadian passport, permanent resident card or visa.  Wait, what?  I thought anyone could write the Ontario bar exams.  I was wrong, and this discovery added an entire year (and thousands of dollars) to the process.  This is one of those things that merits its own blog post, but for now I will say that my fiancé and I hired an immigration lawyer in Toronto and eventually became permanent residents.

Cost: $$$$ immigration and legal fees (you don’t want to know)

  • NCA exam results released (January 2018)

I passed them all!  Yay!

  • Submit LSO licensing process application (September 2018)

Ten months after hiring our immigration lawyer, we became permanent residents.  I submitted my application for the licensing process as soon as I got my confirmation of permanent residence paperwork.

Cost: $180 CAD (application fee)

  • Register for licensing exams; start studying (January 2019)

I decided to write the barrister and solicitor exams in March 2019.  What to expect: the exams are two weeks apart, all multiple choice, and open book.  Quite different (and much more manageable) than the New York bar exam.  The Law Society provides indexes with the study materials and this is all you need to study and pass in my opinion.  Read the materials, create (or borrow someone else’s) condensed outlines/flow charts/etc. and learn how to use the indexes provided by taking practice exams.  There is no need to join an indexing group and create your own index.  I studied completely on my own.

No bar review course, no indexing group.  And I passed!

Cost: $1,695 CAD ($678 per exam plus $169.50 for study materials per exam)

  • Apply for exemption from articling program (January 2019)

If you’re licensed to practice law in a common law jurisdiction and have at least 10 months of experience working in that jurisdiction, you can apply for an exemption from the articling program.  The application requires letters of support from the applicant and a supervising lawyer, essentially to prove that you have the skills and experience that one would normally gain through the articling program.  My application was approved about a month after I submitted it.

Cost: $180 CAD

  • Write barrister and solicitor exams (March 2019)
  • Complete mandatory PCPO program (May 2019)

After approval for an exemption from articling, you must complete a mandatory three-day Professional Responsibility and Practice in Ontario Course (PCPO).  The course is held twice per year in May and December.

Cost: $1,017 CAD

  • Call to the bar ceremony (June 2019)

Cost: $282.50 CAD (application fee for a L1 Licence) plus $209 (robe rental fee)

I will be called to the bar almost exactly two years after I started this process—and I’m still not done!  As it turns out, finding a job is not an easy feat for a foreign-trained lawyer.  But, I’ve made it this far and there is absolutely no stopping me now.

This journey isn’t for the faint of heart, but don’t despair if you’re stuck in the middle or contemplating getting started.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  You will get there.  Take it one day and one step at a time.  Do the best that you can do given your circumstances.  Finally, get connected with other lawyers and groups like NCA Network – we are here to help!

If you want to say hi, connect with me on Linkedin here

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