career alternatives for foreign trained lawyers in Canada
Career Guest Feature

Career Alternative For Foreign-Trained Lawyers In Canada

Law is quite restrictive and specific because the laws differ from country to country which means for any country you consider to move to you have to take the bar exam to practise law.  Having a career with transferable skills to work in different industries and different countries is important when considering immigrating to another country.

I often find that there are two categories of foreign-trained lawyers that are seeking career alternatives. The first being those who just want to start over in a new career with their law degree. The second being those who cannot afford the expense of requalifying as a lawyer in Canada. Regardless of the category, you find yourself in there are other professions you can delve into in Canada. You don’t believe me? Okay, here is a guest feature of a foreign-trained lawyer, Tiwa Ogundipe read her story on how she opted for a different career path in Canada with her law degree.  

Introduce yourself

My name is Tiwa Ogundipe. I studied law at the University of Lagos, Nigeria and was called to the bar in Nigeria. After that, I moved to the United States for my LL.M and graduated in 2017. I decided to move to Canada in 2019 and change my career path.

As a lawyer, who lived in the US, what are the career options there?

I would say the career options depend on the field of law, your experience, your residency status and whether you have passed the Bar Exams in America. It also depends on where you obtained your legal training i.e. within or outside the United States. For foreign-trained lawyers who desire to practice law in America, successful completion of the qualification process is important. The first and usually most difficult step of this process is to pass the bar exam of the state in which you desire to practice. Obtaining legal qualification in the US significantly increases the chances of a foreign-trained lawyer to practice law in America. Some career options include working in a law firm (associate role), a clerkship with a judge, corporate secretary for financial institutions, regulation and compliance advisor in government agencies and private institutions, legal counsel with the city or state government.

Why did you want to move from the US to Canada?

My relocation was due to a variety of factors. After my Master’s in Law, I wanted to switch careers from law practice to policy work and I figured the Master of Public Administration (MPA)  program provided the skills I needed for a successful transition. Although I got admission into four schools in the US, the MPA programs in Canada were significantly cheaper than that of the United States. So financial consideration was a factor. 

Read Also: Requalifying As A Lawyer In Canada

What are the other factors you consider as a foreign-trained lawyer moving to Canada? 

First, the possibility and ease of securing a job after my graduate program was a factor. Considering that I had found it difficult to secure a permanent job in the US, I wanted a country where I would not have to face similar challenges. I did my research and found that it was easier to find a job in Canada, whether in the legal space or in other fields with a few exceptions. I found that a high number of Master Public Administration graduates found jobs within six months of graduation. Also, Canadian education is a serious consideration for employers when hiring. So, I figured having a Canadian education might give me an advantage when job hunting. 

The likelihood of obtaining residency status post-graduation was another consideration. Canada has various immigration programs and policies through which skilled immigrants can apply to become permanent residents in the country like the Federal Skilled Worker Program. There are also programs through which international students can apply to become permanent residents after the completion of their studies. This was important for me as I was not about to face another international student struggle with little hope of permanent residency.

What are the career options for a foreign-trained lawyer moving to Canada?

A foreign-trained lawyer moving to Canada can either choose to continue to practice law or explore alternate career options. Legal career options include legal counsel in a law firm, legal counsel with the municipal, provincial or federal government; legal consulting, legal analyst in legal research institutes, government agencies or NGOs; corporate secretary for financial institutions. Non-legal career options include policy analyst, human resource manager, regulatory compliance specialist, academic professor,  contract manager, public relations and human resource.

What are the ways one can legally move from the US to Canada as a temporary resident?

From my research, I believe there are 2 major ways through which a person can move to Canada as a student or worker. As a student, you can opt for the route of undergraduate or graduate studies in Canada. One thing to bear in mind when coming to Canada is the tuition fees because Canadian schools don’t play with their tuition from international students. They will collect all their money to the very last cent. Coming as a student also requires obtaining a student visa from the Canadian embassy in the country where the application is submitted.

Another way is to come to Canada on a work permit. This route requires the applicant to have secured a job in Canada and allows the applicant to live and work in Canada for the duration of their work permit.

What was the process study permit process like from the US as a temporary resident?

The process was relatively easy. Although my visa was initially denied, it was approved within two weeks after I submitted all the necessary documents. Immigration processing at the entry point was a breeze as well. Once I showed my passport, visa and admission letter, I was allowed entry into the country. I also believe the quick turnaround was because I applied from the United States because applications from the United States are processed faster than other African countries. 

What documentation was required?

Asides the regular documentation required for study permit application, I had to provide documents that proved my legal status in the US, i.e. evidence that I had not overstayed, and I was not out of status. A person applying from their country of citizenship would not need to provide that documentation.

See Also: Applying For A Study Permit 

Any second thoughts about moving to Canada?

Except for the weather and the cost of living compared to the United States, I have no regrets moving to Canada. My stay here has been filled with great experiences. The quality of education is amazing, the people are kind, the opportunities are limitless, and my foreign experience is valued. I also like the fact that part-time jobs are available for international students, whether on or off-campus.  I usually tell people that Canada is a great place to live, as long you’re strategic about your decision to relocate.

Any other final thoughts?

Immigrating to Canada as a temporary resident is relatively easy and straight forward as long as you follow all the steps and provide appropriate documentation. However, in deciding to relocate it is important to be strategic and conduct detailed research to be sure Canada is the right place for you and your career growth so that it doesn’t end in tears. Information is power. Ask questions, speak to people who are open and honest about their journey so they can guide you. With guidance and information, you will thrive in Canada.

Disclaimer – Information in this document is strictly the opinion of the author and are observations from her experience. While she may be available for clarifications or questions, please consult experts or conduct your research for more information.

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