Canadian Myths and Debunking Them

by Sandy Yousef

As an internationally trained lawyer in Canada, you are faced with a magnitude of obstacles that you may or may not be sure how to resolve. There is no right or wrong way to go about your legal career – but there is a tone of questions and anxiety that many students are confronted with. I graduated with a law degree from the University of Leicester in the U.K. and I’ve had my fair share of decision-making, which started before I even accepted my offer of admission. What I have come to realize is that the difficulty in making some of these decisions was the number of connotations that were attached. This was not usually due to a lack of research, but rather due to a lack of a diverse network of professionals who could share the many different methods that you could use to accomplish something.

Currently, I am articling, NCA-certified, and studying for the bar exams. And I’d like to share the myths I have encountered during law school, coming back to Canada, writing my NCAs, and looking for an articling position. 

  1. Your international law degree is worth less than a Canadian degree.

I would like to call this one a stigma. Almost every one of us who decided to study law abroad has either been told this by a relative’s relative or has heard it being insinuated when asked why you’re going abroad. 

My reasoning:

An international law degree is only a disadvantage if you allow the stigma to dictate how you present yourself. In my opinion, an international law degree widens your potentially narrow view of the world, especially if you had never studied abroad before. Every country has its unique experience to offer. Studying in the UK meant that I had access to some extremely brilliant professors from all over Europe. London itself is an international legal hub. The opportunities and connections in that part of the world are endless. Make the absolute most of your law degree with extracurriculars, competitions, and the Pro Bono Clinic, and you definitely won’t feel disadvantaged.

Moreover, the way you are examined in law school in the UK (closed-book) trains you to think on your feet. You are expected to memorize every case, ratio, legal concept, judge’s quote, and piece of legislation that pertains to several different possible scenarios. And you have to understand each aspect thoroughly enough to apply it. You are then examined by solving the legal problem and putting all the puzzle pieces together with a time limit, using just your memory. I’d say that is a pretty valuable education. 

  1. The NCA’s are hard. I have to try to get into a Common Law Masters program.

This is quite subjective but generally speaking, I have found that most people’s perspective was directly adopted from whoever was guiding them. Before I accepted my offer to study law, I attended a seminar in Toronto hosted by the University of Leicester. A couple of alumni and professors were there to speak about their experience and one of the alumni had said that she sat all seven of her NCA exams in one sitting. That was the only thing I needed to hear. I mostly blocked any chatter that came after that – mainly from my anxious peers. 

My reasoning:

The NCAs are extremely similar to the structure of your law school exams. The only difference is that this will probably be your first open-book experience. The best way to prepare is to purchase notes, (I used a combination of Liran and Vanessa’s notes) and to use these notes to write your own essays on potential topics. Vanessa’s notes come with mock questions and answers. Reading through these will build up your confidence but ultimately you’ll realize it’s the same IRAC method used in law school. 

You’re also encouraged not to word-vomit. Tailor your answer and don’t panic to the point of regurgitating everything you know. 

Regarding the Common Law Masters Programs, I opted out. I got early admission at York University after my second year at law school and I decided not to go. My gut instinct was that I’d prefer to do a third year of law school in the UK and I switched over from the 2-year program to the standard 3-year LLB. I preferred a year of electives to figure out what type of law I enjoyed the most. I also felt that because the Common Law Master Program was designed for international students to complete their accreditation, I wouldn’t be specializing in anything. I ended up doing 3 years of law in Leicester, came back to Canada, and finished my NCA’s within 5 months. Had I done the Master’s Program, I would’ve spent 12 months getting accredited. 

  1. I won’t get a job easily. (Intern, Articling, Associate)

This field isn’t ‘easy’. But it’s not because you’re internationally trained. It’s because of our underdeveloped networks. As a first-generation lawyer in my family, I do not have friends or family in this field who can help me develop my network. This is the only disadvantage, in my opinion, of not studying law in Canada. The good news is it’s an easy fix. 

Some ways to fix this:

Sign up for LinkedIn and connect with as many people as you can that you would like to learn from. Start this as early as you possibly can and don’t be afraid to network in your first year. Message other professionals in Canada and ask for advice, set up a zoom call, and get to know how they did things. They may be able to connect you with a colleague who wants an intern. Always be respectful and grateful. 

Send your resume. Even if a firm may not be posting a job ad, they may be intrigued by your interest and offer you a position. Try to do this during summers between your school years. Law practice is a whole other world and you’re going to need to start training and learning all the legal jargon as soon as possible. But if you don’t, it’s okay. As I said, there are many ways to accomplish the same thing. If you’re not able to get a job during law school, it’s not the end of the world. Just keep trying.

Another tip: 

And when you do get a job, remember that all of us before you have also felt equally as lost and confused. This will probably happen to you again if you switch to a new type of law but don’t let that discourage you. No decision you make will permanently shape your career. If you’re practicing in a field of law that makes you unhappy, ask your boss to assign you files in a different practice area or apply to a new firm. Versing yourself with a new practice area might be daunting but when you find that practice area you thrive in, you’ll know. And it’ll be worth it. 

There are definitely more myths I could go on about and probably more I am yet to encounter. Your career is essentially a journey of learning and building up your confidence. You want to get to the level of turning down job offers from firms or companies that don’t share your values. 
If you’d like to say hi, connect with me:

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