Update November 15, 2016:
The results of the November 8, 2016 U.S. election have sparked a huge increase in the number of American lawyers who interested in becoming lawyers in Canada.
Updated April 24/15 Just realized it’s been a long time this page was updated. So, here goes …
Introduction – Who this page for?
This information is for “foreign lawyers”. I am defining a “foreign lawyer” as either:
– a graduate of a law school from a law school located outside of Canada; or
– a member of the bar in a country outside of Canada
How can you become a lawyer in Canada in general and Ontario in particular?
This topic is of great interest for two reasons:
1. An increasing number of Canadians are attending law school outside of Canada; and
2. Canada attracts many immigrants. Many of these immigrants have have earned a law degree and have practiced law outside of Canada.
So, here how it works. I will use the province of Ontario as a model. This is a bit of an oversimplification but, here goes.
1. The practise of law in Ontario is governed by the Ontario Law Society Act. The Law Society Act governs both lawyers and paralegals.
(If you don’t want to deal with the NCA, you can become a paralegal. It is becoming increasingly clear that paralegals are gradually doing more and more of the work that has traditionally been done by lawyers. It also takes less time to become a paralegal. For those interested, I am in the process of creating a page called “Becoming a paralegal in Ontario“.
But, back to becoming a lawyer in Canada …)
The Law Society Act requires that all lawyers be of “good character”. (I think this means only that lawyers cannot be of bad character.) The Ontario Law Society Act also allows the Law Society to make regulations for admission to the legal profession.
2. The regulations require that in order to be a lawyer one must complete the “lawyer licensing” process. The “lawyer licensing process” is composed of approximately ten months of “articling” (working under the supervision of a lawyer) and passing two exams. In some cases the requirement of “articling” can be either waived or abridged. In order to complete the “lawyer licensing process” one must be allowed to enter the lawyer licensing process. Hence, entry into the lawyer licensing process is the most important point of entry into the legal profession. (Note that many graduates of law schools located outside of Canada have expressed frustration with a perceived lack of articling jobs.)
To repeat: the hurdle is being allowed to enter the lawyer licensing process. Graduates of law schools located outside of Canada are required to get a “certificate of qualification” from the NCA to be allowed to enter the “lawyer licensing process”.
3. Graduates of law schools “located in Canada” are given automatic entry into the lawyer licensing process. Graduates of law schools outside of Canada are required to obtain a “certificate of equivalency” from the NCA (“National Committee on Accreditation”). Upon receipt of the certificate of equivalency, graduates of law schools outside of Canada are eligible to enter the lawyer licensing process.
4. Therefore, the real question is what are the NCA rules for foreign law school graduates? The precise questions are:
- What will be required to be issued a “Certificate of Equivalency?
- How many challenge exams will you have to pass?
- Will you be required to attend law school in Canada?
You can read the rules on the NCA site. Note that they are always changing. The basic principle appears to be that:
It is easiest for graduates of U.S. law schools and U.K. law schools to the Ontario Bar. Graduates of three year JD or LL.B. programs in the United States or the U.K., who have acceptable grades, will receive a certificate of equivalency if they pass four exams.
(Note that the “three year” requirement could be achieved with a a UK two year LL.B. and a one year LL.M.)
The four exams (Constitutional law, administrative law, criminal law, etc) are all based on aspects of Canadian Constitutional law. Now, again this is a bit of an oversimplification. Graduates of two year LL.B. programs in the UK will have to pass more exams.
The principle applies to graduates of “common law” schools in other countries (research this yourself). It’s just many NCA applicants are graduates of law schools in the U.S. or U.K.).
Warning!! The NCA rules are in a constant change of change. It is important that you understand the rules and be aware of possible changes. All Canadian residents considering attending law school outside of Canada you should research and understand the rules before leaving!
5. Appealing the decision of the NCA
The NCA will determine how many exams you must pass and what those exams are. In some cases (depending on your background and your law school grades), the NCA may require that you attend law school (presumably in Canada).
It is possible to appeal the NCA decision. I have assisted NCA applicants with their appeals (with a pretty good success rate). The key point is that the NCA is required to apply its own guidelines. In fairness to the NCA, they receive a large number of applications from all around the world. Their objective is to both efficient and fair.
The Effect of Ontario’s Fair Access To Regulated Professions Act
In 2007 the province of Ontario (followed by Manitoba and Nova Scotia) enacted legislation requiring Ontario to provide predictable and fair guidelines to facilitate the entry of foreign trained professionals (including lawyers) into the professions. The impact of this legislation is evolving.
How To Apply To The NCA
Graduates of law schools outside of Canada have found it difficult to deal with the NCA. The NCA has improved over the years, but applicants still report a high degree of frustration. Those interesting in joining the discussion, should join our NCA Exam Prep and Tutoring Facebook page, our NCA Tutoring Linked In Group and our NCA Exams Blog.
Those with questions may want to leave a comment on this page.
NCA Exam Prep Courses and Tutoring
Interestingly both the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall law schools in Toronto offer preparation courses for the NCA exams. In addition, there are private tutoring services, at a lower cost and take less time. (I have no thoughts on the quality or effectiveness of any of these services.)
LL.M. Programs In Canadian Law
These are designed to teach the “core competencies” that the NCA requires. At the present time both:
The University of British Columbia; and
Toronto’s Osgoode Hall Law School
are offering LL.M. programs in Canadian law. I will leave it to you do your own investigation. You would enroll in one of these programs as a possible substitute for the NCA exam requirements.
Foreign Professionals – Transitioning Into The Canadian Legal Profession
As you know, having a license to practise law is one thing. Getting a job is another. The University of Toronto runs their “International Lawyer’s Program”. This is NOT prep for the NCA. It is NOT even related to the NCA requirements. It is simply a program that is designed to help foreign trained law graduates transition into the legal profession. It’s probably a good idea. It does take approximately one year. So, it’s clearly not for everybody.
Consulting – Attending Law School Outside of Canada and Becoming a Lawyer in Canada
There are at least a couple of options here.
Canadian Residents Wishing To Attend Law School Outside of Canada:
One option is John Kelly of Canada Law From Abroad. His primary business is assisting Canadian residents attend U.K. law schools and then become admitted to the Bar of Ontario. Mr. Kelly has been at this for a number of years. He specializes in U.K. law schools. In addition, he has been very helpful in pressuring the NCA to provide clear and fair requirements. I would say that Mr. Kelly is the “pioneer” in this area of consulting.
Assistance To Foreign Law Graduates Seeking Bar Admission in Canada:
John Richardson (That’s me). You can contact me using the form below.
Some Web Sites To Help You With Your Research:
What’s a law degree? LL.B. vs. JD
(This is fairly detailed article.)
Canada Immigration Issues
IELTS Prep and English Language Requirements
Immigration to Canada and Language Requirements
NCA Language Requirements
Certain applicants will be required to pass the IELTS to be awarded an NCA “Certificate of Qualification“
Social Media Sites and NCA Discussion
1. NCA exam preparation Facebook page
2. NCA exam prep blog
3. IELTS Prep Sites
NCA Exam Prep and Bar Admission Consultants
John Kelly – Canada Law From Abroad
John Richardson – use this contact form or leave a comment: