Many international students have an interest in becoming a lawyer and practicing in Canada, but maybe are less sure of the process. There are two primary processes for becoming a practicing lawyer here in Canada. One is by completing your law education here in a law faculty that accepts international students and then applying to your province’s bar. The other option is to complete your law school training in your home country and have that education and professional experience assessed by Canada’s National Committee on Accreditation.
Pathway 1 – Attending Law School in Canada
Canadian Law Schools Accepting International Students
- Thompson Rivers University – Thompson Rivers University is located in British Columbia, Canada and is home to a Faculty of Law. International students can enter the programs offered, as long as they have met the requirements; these include completion of an undergraduate degree or the first 3 years, a completed online/paper application, postsecondary transcripts, a statement of interest, two reference letters, resume, and any other appropriate documents such as your LSAT score. Once students have gotten into the program they can pursue the Juris Doctor program – a professional law program that will well prepare graduates to practise law here in Canada; the program covers the fundamentals of law in Canada, advanced and specialized law courses, as well as the opportunity for an exchange abroad.
- The University of Victoria – The University of Victoria is located on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and also houses a law school for domestic and international students. International students can enter the programs offered by the law school provided they meet eligibility requirements; at UVIC, this includes a good GPA and LSAT score, and a personal statement. There may also be additional requirements depending on which law program you apply to, this includes the following programs: Juris Doctor, Joint Indigenous Degree, LLM and Ph.D.’s. Unique to UVIC’s law faculty is the law co-op program; international students can gather paid work experience in Canadian and international law settings.
- The University of Saskatchewan – Saskatchewan’s own University of Saskatchewan offers two law programs – a Juris Doctor program and a Masters of Law program. International applicants are welcome in both programs offered by the University of Saskatchewan. International students who are applying to the popular JD program will need to meet the following requirements: completed and passed LSAT exam, a personal statement, a TOEFL score if needed, and notably, only 2 years of an undergraduate degree, totalling around 60 credits. For the Masters of Law program, international students will need to meet the language proficiency requirements, a JD or Bachelor of Laws degree, and at least a cumulative average of 70%.
Completing the Provincial Bar Exam
Once students (international or domestic) have completed their JD program, they need to pass their province’s bar exam in order to start legally practicing law. These bar exams vary significantly depending on the province you choose to take your exam in, so be sure to do your research on your province’s specific law society. The British Columbia bar exam will serve as an example and is detailed below.
In BC, lawyers wishing to become certified must complete a 12-month program. To begin, this will include 9 months of articling in a legal workplace such as a law firm. This work must be completed on a full-time basis. Following this comes the completion of a 10-week Professional Legal Training Course (PLTC) detailing content such as legal skills, ethics, and practice management. This course is available at the Law Society in Vancouver, as well as at Camosun College on Vancouver Island. After the course, comes two examinations covering materials learned in the PLTC course. Once this all completed successfully, you will receive a package detailing call and admission to the bar, along with membership options and fees.
Pathway 2 – Foreign-Trained Lawyer Approval by the NCA
If you have already attended law school in a foreign country, you can still become a practicing lawyer in Canada. However, there is an approval process to go through that is administered by the National Committee on Accreditation of Canada.
Education Approval by the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA)
Foreign-trained lawyers wishing to practice in Canada will need to go through the National Committee on Accreditation; this is the body that assesses both the legal education and professional experience of individuals who obtained their credentials outside of the country.
The first step as a foreign-trained lawyer with the NCA is to determine if you qualify; the NCA provides a self-assessment tool that asks a few questions. The questions seek to determine the calibre of your law education, where you received it, and if you took these studies online. It should be noted this self-assessment is not a guarantee and does not replace the actual NCA assessment itself. The NCA assessment will ask lawyers for the following information:
- Pre-law university transcripts
- Official transcripts for legal education
- An updated outline of education and work experience
- *If you are a lawyer – official letter or certificate of good standing from the bar association or bar council
Once your NCA assessment is completed, you will receive a report back from the NCA detailing the education you need to acquire in Canada. This could be a graduate program or a few courses, it will depend on the outcome of your assessment. Gathering this knowledge means you will be well-prepared to practice Canadian law, as much so as a graduate from a Canadian law program.
Once your education assignments have been completed, you are ready to apply for a certificate of qualification from the NCA. This will be proof of your completed education or exams, and you can use it as proof that can star in on your bar admission process in the province of your choice.
Career Outlook for Lawyers Practicing in Canada
There are a number of different types of lawyers practicing in Canada; as some examples, lawyers in Canada could specialize in Indigenous Law, Environmental Law, Criminal Law, Administrative Law, Corporate Law, Tax Law, Family Law and much much more. The Government of Canada reports on lawyer job growth, outlook and wages via their Job Bank website. According to the Government of Canada, labour supply and demand are expected to be roughly in balance; new job openings are expected to total 46 000, while new lawyers seeking jobs are expected to total 46 600 over the period of 2019-2028. Demand for lawyers will be highest in the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Quebec and Saskatchewan as cited by the Government of Canada.
Lawyers in Canada can expect to earn a median annual salary of $116 940. There is however significant variation amongst the provinces as presented below and sourced from the Government of Canada:
- Alberta – $140 808
- British Columbia – $115 621
- Manitoba – $109 179
- New Brunswick – $79 485
- Newfoundland and Labrador – $131 203
- Northwest Territories – N/A
- Nova Scotia – $104 920
- Prince Edward Island – $89 419
- Ontario – $131 654
- Quebec – $89 666
- Saskatchewan – $119 587
- Yukon – N/A
International students can become certified here in Canada, either through Canadian law education or via education in their home country. Both can lead to the outcome of practicing law here in Canada. International students can apply to law schools in Canada directly as long as they meet all of the eligibility requirements, including an LSAT, language proficiency, and a good GPA. Meanwhile, foreign-trained lawyers while have their specific education and experience assessed by the NCA and they may have to complete exams or education here in Canada.