Requalifying as a lawyer in Canada is quite a journey but you have to know what you are getting into before delving into it. There is so much you have to be aware of especially if you are an internationally trained lawyer looking to practise law in Canada. Keep reading to find out all about it from my guest feature, Moyo. She shares tonnes of tips that are useful in passing the bar exam, setbacks expected to encounter along the way and managing a balanced lifestyle all through the process.
My name is Moyosore Balogun and I am Nigerian who is licensed to practice law in the Province of Ontario and in Nigeria. I act as one of the solicitors for the City of London, London, Ontario. I am passionate about Wrongful Convictions especially in Nigeria and when I’m not practising law, you will find me recording/editing my YouTube channel (Ask Mo) that addresses questions about the licensing process, graduate school in Canada, and general advice about life in Canada. Also, I enjoy writing articles that many people can resonate on @moyosore_b on Instagram and Moyosore Balogun on LinkedIn.
Talk about your journey to becoming a lawyer and being called to bar in Ontario
I studied law at Afe Babalola University in Nigeria, and I was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2016. I didn’t practice law in Nigeria because a day after my final paper at the Nigerian Law School, I travelled to Toronto to start my LLM at the University of Toronto. I later went back to Nigeria in November 2016 for my call to the bar.
I published a detailed article on LinkedIn about my licensing journey and although it’s a long piece, I would encourage everyone who is going through the licensing process, or thinking of going through the licensing process, to read it.
I would also like to address a few things about getting requalified as a lawyer in Canada.
A Canadian law degree is not a prerequisite for an Internationally Trained Lawyer (ITL) to practice law in Canada. A Master of Laws is also not a prerequisite for an ITL to practice law in Canada.
I decided to obtain my Master of Laws from the University of Toronto because I wanted one, not because I wanted to practice law in Canada. There is a difference between going to a Canadian law school and getting requalified as an ITL. An ITL is a lawyer who has obtained a law degree from another country. An ITL who is looking to requalify as a lawyer in Canada does not have to enroll in a Canadian law school as the Law society in various provinces set out the requirements for the requalification of ITL’s.
Having a law degree from another country makes the process faster as there would be no need for you to enroll in a Canadian law school. If you do not have a law degree from another country, you would have to enroll in a Canadian law school for a Juris Doctor (JD) program which is an undergraduate program for three years. I cannot speak to this because I didn’t go through this process because I came in as an ITL.
What is the procedure for qualifying as a lawyer in Canada? How much did the entire process cost?
The licensing process is different in every province, and because I am called to the Ontario Bar, I can only write about the Ontario Bar. There are three hurdles to cross before becoming licensed to practice law in Ontario:
- NCA is the first hurdle and this is compulsory in every province.
- The next hurdle is Articling or the Law Practice Program (different provinces have their way of regulating this)
- And the third hurdle is the Ontario Bar exams.
It cost me $9404 Canadian dollars to requalify as a lawyer in Ontario and I have a video that breaks everything down.
What was the entire law school experience like?
I found the process very difficult because the exams are self-study exams and I had never been exposed to these areas of law until I had to write the exams. I started the process while I was doing my Master of Laws and it was difficult for me to juggle both together with working part-time. Studying for the bar exam was even worse because I was articling at the time. I share more about my experience of failing the bar exams, how the process almost made me depressed and how I was able to bounce back on LinkedIn.
How long did it take to be called to bar in Ontario/Canada?
I started the licensing process in September 2017, and I got called to the Ontario bar in September 2019 so it took me two years.
How did you prepare for the bar exam? And when?
I explained in the article I shared above how I prepared for the bar exam and the strategies I used in preparing after I had failed the exam twice. You can write the NCA exam in January, May, August and October and you can write the Ontario Bar Exams in March, June and November.
What happens when you fail the law school exam?
You have three attempts to write an NCA exam and the NCA may grant you a fourth attempt, but you have to provide them with a learning plan that complies with their policy. I failed my first NCA exam on my first attempt and I have recorded that experience as part of the NCA series. The Ontario bar exam has two parts: the Barrister Exam and the Solicitor Exam. You have three attempts to write each part.
What are the job opportunities for ITL in Ontario?
The reality is, it is difficult for ITL’s to find articling positions in Canada. Articling is a 10-month apprenticeship that Ontario law students must do on top of the bar exam to become lawyers. There are other alternatives to articling, but most licensing candidates prefer to article with the hope of getting retained by their law firms. From my experience, ITL’s find it difficult to secure an articling position because most local lawyers are not familiar with the route that ITL’s take and they would rather hire licensing candidates who have passed through the familiar route which is attending a Canadian law school. I wrote an article that addresses some of the issues ITL’s face while trying to requalify as lawyers here. The ripple effect of not finding an articling placement is that it becomes almost impossible to find a job once the licensing process is complete. Most employers are not willing to take a chance on an ITL who doesn’t have any work experience in Canada and this forces many ITLs to start their own law firms, not because they want to, but because they must. This forces some ITL’s to leave the practice of law completely. This is not to say that there are no jobs for ITL’s in Canada, several ITL’s are doing very well and working in reputable firms as well as exploring several job opportunities available for lawyers in other fields, but it is more difficult for ITL’s to breakthrough.
Can you practise law in any province?
Yes, you can depending on some conditions but for me to practice law in another province, I must consult the law society in the jurisdiction/province in which I wish to practise law and find out what the requirement is. There is a transfer process I must undergo if I want to practice in another province and this process is different in every province. There is also a transfer fee.
What online resources do you think are useful for someone who is a lawyer planning to come to Canada or wants to write the bar exam?
- My YouTube channel
- Connect with National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) – Current and Former Students and Bar LSO BARRISTER & SOLICITOR EXAMS groups on Facebook. There are several groups for Internationally Trained Lawyers on Facebook and these groups are amazing resources.
- There is a page on Instagram called @naijalawyerincanada. This page has a lot of resources for ITL’s.
Which provincial law school is the hardest bar exam to write in Canada?
I would say the Ontario Bar is the hardest bar exam in Canada. I know people who have gone to other provinces to complete their licensing process because it is easier than the Ontario Bar exam and they come back to Ontario to undergo the transfer process. I’m not sure what the simplest bar exam is.
What advice would you have wanted before starting law school in Canada?
I wish someone had told me not to rush the process and just enjoy the season. The exams can be very overwhelming and the normal thing is to rush and get it over with but I wish I had taken my time because the truth is once you are called to the bar, you have the rest of your life to practice. I wish someone also told me to have fun during the process. I was so caught up in everything to the extent that I almost lost myself. I wish I enjoyed the process more, travelled more and created time for things that were important to me.
What advice would you want to give the new students about to start law school?
- Pace yourself
For the bar exams, I would suggest writing them one at a time as opposed to writing them at the same time. Most licensing candidates are either working or articling during this period and we all know how difficult it is to work and study at the same time. I made the mistake of writing both exams at the same time and I failed one of them as I was more focused on the other. Most Canadian law students write the exams at once, but I always tell ITL’s not to compare themselves with them. Most of them have an in-depth understanding of these courses which makes it easy for them to sit for the exams at once. Of course, it is doable to write it all and pass.
- Reach out to other law students/ lawyers if you fail
I cannot overemphasize how important this is. If you fail, do not be discouraged, get up and try again until you finally achieve your goals. When I failed, I reached out to people who had successfully written the bar exams. They gave me tips, materials, videos and so many other resources such as cheat sheets, timesheets, and past questions that helped me pass the exams at the next sitting. Also, please take advantage of the resources provided by the Law Society and the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) for those who fail. The Law Society provides tutors to those who fail. I took advantage of it and it made a difference.
- Friends and Family
Surround yourself with friends and family during this period. If care is not taken it is easy to slip into depression because moving into a new country and trying to figure things out could be daunting.
- Have Fun
I mentioned earlier that I regret not having fun, exercising, and creating time for things that were important to me. I know the time to study is limited especially when working, but things started to get better for me when I started sleeping well, travelling, exercising, meeting up with friends and spending time with my family. Find an activity that you can be involved in and other things that you can do to help boost your mental health.