The re-qualification process has two stages: accreditation at the national level, and Bar admission at the provincial level. The first step is to submit an application to the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA), a division of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. The NCA evaluates each applicant’s education and legal experience. At a minimum, applicants are required to write some accreditation exams in Canadian law via independent study. At the other end of the scale, they may have to attend law school.
After completion of the NCA certification, the next step is admission to the provincial Bar. Each province has its own law society and a lawyer with the NCA certification is generally treated the same way as a Canadian law school graduate. They must complete articles (around 9 to 12 months in duration), the provincial Bar admission program and the Bar exam.
In practice, it can take several years for even the most experienced foreign qualified lawyer to be admitted here, which often surprises those from legal markets more at ease with lawyers transferring between jurisdictions.
The Federation of Canadian Law Societies website (of which the NCA is a part of) has more information: http://www.flsc.ca/en/nca/
Your best strategy is to start the NCA process early, ideally before coming to Canada, this will both shorten the process and provide a map of the path and likely timing for re-qualification.
As preparation for the NCA exams is usually by independent study, it is difficult to gauge how much work is required. Connecting with others who are going through or have completed the process is a great way to ease the feeling of isolation associated with self-study and build up a network of contacts when looking for articles. For example, social networking sites such as Facebook have community pages for those preparing for their NCA exams.
Some provincial law societies will shorten the articling period for experienced lawyers and may allow them to sit the bar exam without having to attend the bar admission course. However, this type of concession may not be offered automatically by the relevant law society, so this may be something you wish to explore in advance with the law society when submitting yourself for re-qualification.
Foreign qualified lawyers may have to “discount” their experience and compensation by working as an assistant, a paralegal or at a more junior associate level while completing the NCA certification process and articles. However, this can be advantageous as it relieves some of the performance pressure during the transition to Canadian law and practice.
Successfully securing articles generally requires a two-pronged approach: knowledge and networking. Few people would buy a house in a foreign country without first consulting a local realtor for advice on housing stock, location and price. Similarly, recruitment consultants specialize in placing lawyers. They can provide a valuable overview of the local market and facilitate a targeted approach, for example to firms with a track record of foreign qualified hires.