Law is a journey that in itself brings a number of challenges. It only adds on more for internationally trained lawyers. However, if there is passion, no obstacle can hinder the growth of a lawyer. The key is to keep moving ahead and keep networking, and one day you will find yourself in a position of mentoring many others.
After graduating with an honours degree in law from the University of London (UK), I started working in my home country for an international law firm, acquiring experience in IP laws. My legal career felt completely organized.
I got an opportunity to migrate to Canada in 2017. I did my research and immediately registered myself with NCA. I was assessed by eight exams and I registered myself for four exams before even landing in Toronto. I had exactly four weeks till my first set of NCAs when I arrived here and I started studying day and night. The more I talked to students here, the more opinions I gathered as to how risky the idea is for preparing for four exams in such little time. I was scared of failing but I didn’t defer any exam. I didn’t take any external help and I was able to pass all eight exams in two consecutive sessions.
The next big challenge was finding an articling position. Not knowing anyone within the legal community and facing hundreds of rejections can be pretty daunting. Without any prior Canadian experience, no law firm was willing to hire me. I resorted to retail jobs to keep things flowing. In the meantime, I kept applying at law firms both through traditional and non-traditional ways. What worked more was actually cold calling, writing emails, and reaching out to lawyers and recruiters in person. Almost everybody I reached out to helped me in whatever way they could and were kind enough to respond to my queries. Obtaining direct guidance to get through this cut-throat procedure was the most valuable. The motivation that it brought was what kept me going. However, all of this required a lot of dedication.
I was able to get into a law firm as a receptionist while I had just completed my second round of NCAs. It felt like a bit of a set-back but as I look back, that experience taught me the ins and outs of running a law firm as I became the voice and face of that office. I was hired back as an articling student at the same office as soon as I received my NCA certificate and at that point I knew there was no turning back. Going to work meant four hours of commute and taking three buses every day while only getting a minimal stipend for that entire year. I remember waking up at 3:00 am everyday to study for my barrister exam, leaving for work at 7:00 am to start at 9:00, and returning home at 7:00 pm. That grind was essential to develop a thick skin for which I’m thankful today as I now know that nothing can break me.
By the end of my articling term in family law and real estate law, I knew that I needed to explore more legal avenues to know myself better as a lawyer. I purposefully delayed my licensing process to work as a legal assistant with a senior trial lawyer. I’m glad I made that decision because working with such a senior lawyer gave me the opportunity to explore an array of legal domains within Ontario.
Just as I decided to wrap up my licensing process and write my solicitor exam in March 2020, a global pandemic was declared. The exam was cancelled only three days before the scheduled date. Not only this, but I lost my job as a full-time employee with the economic recession that came with it which only left me with the option to freelance on irregular hours with my existing employer. Nonetheless, I knew that there must be a blessing in disguise in this as well. What goes down must come up. Three months later, I was able to find another job as a real estate law clerk while I also wrote my solicitor exam from home given the changing dynamics post COVID.
As I now wait for my result, I am working with a busy boutique practicing in real estate law. There were many times when non-traditional legal jobs attracted me to a point to seriously consider quitting the bar. It was my passion that kept me motivated throughout these past three years. Today as I reflect back, I am glad for the choices that I made which led me to where I am.
Choose your time and battles wisely and you will never have a dull moment. If you are struggling today, take my word for it, all of this will be worth it in the end. Never give up on your dreams.