8 March 2023
My Journey As a Foreign Trained Lawyer in Canada
This article is part of a series of educational blog posts created by a team of Watson Goepel women lawyers in light of International Women’s Day 2023, to empower, celebrate, and encourage women in Canada.
My name is Lauren Liebowitz, and I am a newly Canadian Accredited lawyer from South Africa.
For International Women’s Day 2023 I felt it important to share my journey as a foreign trained lawyer in the hope that this information could assist other female (or male) foreign trained lawyers in their journey of re-entry into the legal profession.
During August 2019, my husband and I applied for Permanent Residency (“PR”) in Canada with the intention of moving to Vancouver. We had visited Vancouver 5 years prior and knew from the moment the wheels of our airplane touched down on the runway that this was the place we wanted to call home. It was at that point that I started looking into the process of accreditation so that I would be able to practice law when we were finally able to relocate.
Our PR status was thankfully granted in December 2019. At that stage, whilst my husband had very transferrable IT skills, I could not work as a lawyer until I had completed an accreditation process with the National Committee on Accreditation (“NCA”) (a branch of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada).
When I left South Africa in 2020, I had been practicing as a lawyer there for ten years in the areas of Insolvency Law, Commercial Law, Family law and Property Law. I received an assessment from the NCA that despite my experience and bachelor’s degree from a reputable South African University, I was required to complete 9 qualifying exams and then complete an articling period of 1 year.
I was however unable to begin the process whilst still in South Africa as the exams took place in person and were held in a different city to which I was living at the time.
In January 2021 and after taking same time to settle down in Vancouver, I began the accreditation process. The Covid-19 pandemic caused NCA exams to move to an online platform which allowed greater flexibility for completion, and I completed my accreditation with the NCA approximately 13 months later. Once I received my certificate of completion from the NCA, I was able to begin my articling period with Watson Goepel and was successfully called to the B.C. Bar in September 2022.
For those foreign trained lawyers looking to become accredited in Canada, of note is that this process is a costly endeavor but very rewarding. There are costs associated with the study materials and exam fees (currently $550 plus tax) as well as loss of income while being unable to practice law.
There is also the additional challenge that once you have successfully achieved accreditation in Canada, many law firms base salaries on year of call to the B.C. bar which may mean that you receive a salary similar to Canadian lawyers who have recently graduated from law school.
Lawyers are not the only professionals who must undergo a process of accreditation in order to work in Canada. Professions such as doctors and nurses experience the same lengthy processes. While understandable to some degree in order to ensure quality and training for the system requirements here in Canada, these lengthy and costly processes have significant impacts both on earning potential but also on self-esteem. For some professions where the professionals are predominantly women or come from countries where English is not their first language, additional barriers are added to socio-economic parity.
It is, however, encouraging to see B.C. introduce legislation with regards to accelerating accreditation for some professionals and in particular for nurses from abroad.
After all, professionals from non-Canadian jurisdictions can add value to Canadian society by bringing different perspectives and a wealth of experience to an increasingly diverse Canadian society.
In my journey to becoming an accredited lawyer in Canada, it would have been helpful to have a professional group of peers to reach out to for advice. To that end, and with the assistance of my colleagues at Watson Goepel LLP, I will be making application to the British Columbia Bar Association to create a subsection which could address issues faced by foreign rained lawyers as well as provide a network of support. The BC CBA requires 25 names of interested members to start this process. If you are a foreign trained lawyer and a member of the BC CBA and are interested in participating, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet The Author
Lauren is an Associate in the Family Law Group at Watson Goepel. Her practice covers all areas of family law, where she assists her clients with marriage, cohabitation and separation agreements, divorce, children and parenting arrangements, child and spousal support and mediation.