I have become an advocate for internationally educated lawyers.
Here’s why you should too.
Hiring lawyers who have lived and worked elsewhere means you’re bringing in individuals who are adaptable and flexible. These lawyers have connections all over the world and most speak more than one language. Clients who have lived and worked elsewhere instantly relate to the lawyers they work with and their needs are serviced better.
It is important to shed light on the importance of society as a whole to have a diverse and inclusive group of lawyers. This includes lawyers who attained a legal education outside of this country.
In October 2018, I co-founded NCA Network, a diversity and inclusion group which fosters a community for students and lawyers who studied
We are very excited to be having our first event, A Conversation About Diversity, on March 21, 2019, at the Toronto Lawyers Association. I will be moderating the event and our speakers for the evening are Justice Julie Thorburn, Law Society of Ontario bencher Isfahan Merali and Atrisha Lewis of McCarthy Tetrault. There is 40 minutes of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) CPD for attendance.
Here is why I’m doing this.
In 2013, I volunteered with an estate litigator in Toronto a few months prior to starting law school in none other than London, England. Goodbye Toronto — I thought I was never coming back.
In 2015, I graduated law school a bit more deflated than when I started. I studied diligently and did extremely well, but that did not translate into getting a job. All those movies where law students are getting competing offers? My reality was more like rejection, defeat and the dreaded despair.
Unfortunately, a law degree is only the first step in becoming a lawyer.
If I wanted to become a lawyer in Ontario, I had a few more steps to overcome. I had to apply to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) to assess my education and determine how many National Committee on Accredition (NCA) exams I had to write.
Then of course I had to article, write the licensing exams and get called to the bar.
I asked my law school to submit my transcript directly to the FLSC in case I wanted to write the earliest NCA exam in October. The exams are offered four times a year: January, May, August and October, and can be written outside of Canada with special permission (this tends to change frequently).
I was assessed to write seven exams, which I wrote in the U.K. while working as a paralegal at an
international law firm. I did a combination of online courses and NCA exams.
I found there was little to no guidance for students explaining how to write these exams or what the exams were about. This is one of the main reasons I started the NCA Network. There is a strategy that is needed for writing these exams and this guidance can help so many students like my past self: working full-time and dreaming of becoming a lawyer in Canada.
Then there’s articling.
The position feels impossible to get as an internationally educated student because of the off-cycle timeline. Firms recruit these positions three years in advance. They hire the summer students in between second and third year and these students then article with the firm. Other firms hire one year in advance. Articling students typically start in June.
Like most internationally educated law students, I was off-cycle and I interviewed for articling positions commencing a whole year later.
With hard work (and always a bit of luck) I was able to article sooner. Even though I finished my NCA exams, I was still waiting for my Certificate of Qualification (which is the piece of paper you need before you can start articling).
I returned to volunteer with the same estate litigator I worked for before law school and the day I received my Certificate of Qualification in November was the day I began as an articling student.
Articling for a sole practitioner gave me the experience I needed to open up my own shop. I understood the office management aspect of running a law firm and I had the opportunity to go to court, speak to clients and draft materials. Estate litigation is a niche area of law and I continue to enjoy the human element and helping clients through this difficult time in their life.
I completed articling, got married and then wrote my barrister and solicitor exams. I got called to the bar in January 2018. I was so happy to be a lawyer.
I knew that the sole practitioner I worked for couldn’t double his practice overnight and start hiring associates. I was back hunting for a job almost five years after starting law school.
I created the blog Law For Millennials, where we discuss legal issues; it is easy to understand and focused on issues millennials face.
I secured an associate position at a boutique estate litigation firm and honed my drafting, communication and technical legal skills.
In 2019, I decided to hang my shingle and start my own estate litigation firm. My clients’ issues are deeply personal and I find being compassionate and available is extremely important as an estate litigator.
I wouldn’t change one thing I have done in my path to become a lawyer. Living in the U.K. was a once-in-a-lifetime experience which opened my eyes to new horizons, travel opportunities and the chance to immerse myself in a new culture.
My uphill battle to secure legal positions made me a great networker. I honed my technical legal skills and my ability to effectively communicate.
The scariest part of going abroad is the unknown. Was I going to pass the NCA exams, get articling, pass the bar exams, get a job as a lawyer? In my experience, everyone gets a job, somewhere, eventually.
I remind myself that all good things take time, hard work always pays off and treat others how you want to be treated. It is important to address the extra hurdles internationally educated lawyers and students face and support one another. There is unity in diversity.
This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (www.thelawyersdaily.ca), part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.