A Notice to American Lawyers: Considering a Move to Canada?

Move to Canada

Move to Canada

Are You A Lawyer And Considering a Move to Canada?

Want to practice law in Canada? You can always go back to law school or earn an LLB if you are granted admission to one of Canada’s exclusive institutions. For potential immigrants not interested in earning an additional degree however, a self-study program is an alternative, made available through the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.

How does the program work?

Participation in The Federal of Law Societies of Canada’s self-study program allows you to become eligible to write the bar in most provinces. You must first complete your application with the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA). This organization establishes baseline qualifications for eligibility to write the bar exam. The Application is extensive and asks for educational as well as professional history. Following the NCA’s assessment, you will be informed about whether you qualify to write equivalency exams or if you are required to go back to the starting line.

How many exams will you have to write?

More often than not, U.S. trained lawyers with some work experience are required to take five NCA exams but the NCA can require you to take up to 14. These are as series of open-book exams which serve to test you on the foundational elements of Canadian law.

These exams include such topics as Canadian Professional Responsibility, Foundations of Canadian Law, Canadian Administrative Law, Canadian Criminal Law and Canadian Constitutional Law.

The exams are offered several times a year and are currently being offered online to minimize the risks relating to the spread of Covid-19. Candidates can choose to take these exams all in one go, or to spread them out over the course of a couple of years.

Five exams in one week is stressful but feasible. In pre-Covid times, NCA exams were offered in a large conference centre under similar circumstances to the actual bar.

These are open book, open note exams that require you to respond in writing to a variety of questions involving legal theory, history and the analysis of various fact patterns. In-person exams are three hours long, and online examinees are given four hours to complete each test.

What will I receive to allow me to practice law in Canada?

Once you have passed all of the required NCA exams, you will receive a Certificate of Qualification which permits you to enroll in individual provinces’ Law Society Admissions Programs. Admissions programs vary from province to province – check out the Law Society website for your province of choice for specifics.

In Ontario and British Columbia, obtaining a Certificate of Qualification entitles you to write the barristers and solicitors exams.

Law Society Of Ontario

Law Society Of British Columbia

Once again, these are offered several times a year and there are limits imposed upon how many times a candidate can fail before they are disqualified from writing the exam again. If you choose to do them during the same testing period, the exams are two weeks apart and about seven hours each in duration.

Is there an articling/internship requirement?

One key difference in obtaining a license to practice law in Canada compared to the U.S. is the requirement to complete one’s articles. Akin to an intensive 10-month internship, articling students learn practical skills and need to document their articles with the Law Society before being officially called to the bar. For American practitioners (and others licensed in common-law countries) with at least a few years of work experience, there is an application for exemption from the articling requirement. In lieu of a 10-month articling period, those who qualify for an exemption must participate in a three-day ethics course.

Once you have successfully passed both the barristers and solicitors examinations and either completed your articles or attended the PCPO course, you are able to sign the rolls and get called to the bar – a ceremony that is currently on hold because of Covid-19.

When can I start?

From start to finish, if the process is followed diligently, it will take about a year and a half until you can start to practice. The initial investment is steep: the entire process will cost you a few thousand dollars; more if you have to purchase all of your study materials or choose to hire a prep tutor.

I Want To Move To Canada. What about my immigration options?

Qualifying to practice law in Canada is one thing, but if you are not already a Canadian permanent resident or citizen, then you will also need to sort through your immigration options to come to Canada. In this respect, especially for lawyers, there are a number of potential opportunities that you could explore for either getting a work permit to allow you to temporarily work in Canada, or to obtain permanent residency here right off the bat.

lawyer moving to Canada- immigrating to Canada

Here are a few potential options for obtaining permanent residency:

Express Entry

Canada’s Express Entry program is an application for skilled immigrants who wish to permanently settle in Canada. Depending on your profile, which includes your age, education, work experience, family members in Canada, and other factors, you are assigned a point-score which will help ascertain whether you’d be eligible for permanent residency. Once you are enrolled in the Express Entry pool, you may be selected by the Government of Canada to apply for permanent residency, depending on when they make a draw from the pool, and whether your total point-score meets the government’s minimum threshold.

This may be the ideal program for young lawyers, as your level of education, age and work experience abroad (if applicable) would help get you enough points to qualify through this program.

Provincial Nominee Programs

Canada is made up of 10 provinces and 3 territories. Each province has its own program through which criteria is set and managed for immigrant settlement. Once you have set up your profile through the Federal Express Entry pool, you may also be selected for a specific provincial program, depending on whether you have indicated an interest in living and working there.

Depending upon the province-set eligibility criteria, you may qualify for one of their programs. It is through these programs that many foreign nationals annually apply for Canadian permanent residence. Given the concentration of lawyers in some of Canada’s larger urban hubs (i.e. Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver or Calgary), there are often opportunities for lawyers to find employment in other, less populated areas of Canada. Once you are granted permanent residency through this program, you are eligible to work in Canada and obtain other benefits, such as health insurance.

Owner Operator LMIA

If you have already been in business sometime, and have capital to invest in Canada to set up a company here, you may wish to consider an opportunity to obtain an owner-operator LMIA (Labour Market Impact Assessment). In some ways, this is the most sought after path for potential self-employed business investors, but your eligibility will depend on the amount of capital you have available to invest. In order to qualify, all that is likely required is a viable business plan and for the transaction to be genuine. If you successfully obtain an owner-operator LMIA, you will be granted a work permit which will be valid for 1-2 years.

After that period of time, you would likely be able to apply for permanent residence through the Express Entry program or a Provincial Nominee Program.

Work Permit

If you do not have the capital to invest, and do not qualify for express entry, you may also be eligible to obtain a work permit if you are able to secure a serious offer of employment through a Canadian law firm. If they are willing to assist you in obtaining a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), then you may very well be able to find employment this way. After a few years of employment in Canada, you would likely qualify for an Express Entry or Provincial Nominee Program, which could be your path to permanent residence.

There may be some other options for lawyers to pursue in terms of immigration to Canada, but this country values those who can contribute to our economy. The Canadian legal profession is always in need of hard-working individuals who want to contribute to the economy and depending on your areas of interest and expertise, you may in fact have a future in Canada!

Good luck!

Canadian Lawyer

Contact An Immigration Lawyer Today

If you would like to move to Canada, contact Hummingbird’s Toronto immigration lawyers for more information about our immigration law services.

The article was co-authored by Hummingbird Lawyers Ruth Kalnitsky Roth and Adam Hummel.

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