Qualifying as a Lawyer in Canada: Career Options For Graduates of Cardiff University

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1 Qualifying as a Lawyer in Canada: Career Options For Graduates of Cardiff University See now the Guidelines Issued by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada as revised in January 2015 at Hello! My name is Thomas MacLaren and I graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from Cardiff University a few years ago. I very much enjoyed my time there. I now wish to share some ideas with you about the career opportunities you have, and the decisions you will face, during and upon completion of your law degree. Let me offer you some advice. I ll begin by giving you some information on my situation. After completing my undergraduate degree in Canada I chose to leave my country to obtain my legal education for three reasons: I sought a fun and rewarding cultural experience; I relished the prospect of travelling around Europe; and My LSAT scores would have held me back from the top tier of Law Schools in Canada. I chose Cardiff Law School because it is a respected member of the Russell Group: essentially an Ivy League equivalent for the UK. The professors and teaching staff are very well respected in their fields and acclaimed by their peers. The School offers a wide range of courses on many current and exciting areas of law. In addition, Cardiff is a vibrant city with many attractions both in the Downtown and in the Bay areas. My three years at Cardiff University were wonderful: I travelled to many European cities, met great new friends from various cultural backgrounds and, most important of all, enjoyed an excellent legal education. Towards the end of my studies I had several decisions to make about my career and I ll now share them with you. 1

2 Upon graduating, I identified three immediate options: return home to Canada and practise law; remain in Europe short term in order to travel; and, remain in the UK long-term to practise law. 1. Qualifying as a Lawyer in Canada This is by far the most popular option. A UK law degree, of itself, will not be sufficient to satisfy the Bar Association of your Province. In order to prove that your degree is of a standard acceptable to the Canadian Bar, you must apply for accreditation by seeking a Certificate of Qualification from the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA), a standing committee of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. The NCA will then ask you to pass examinations in certain subjects which they will specify having looked at the legal education you have received. The Federation s website is essential to this process. You should carefully study it When to apply for accreditation? Depending upon how quickly you wish to qualify, you should apply for accreditation in the second semester of your final year at Cardiff University. This used to cost 525 dollars. Applications are dealt with on a first come, first serve basis, and no closing date is set. What documents are needed? The NCA provide a checklist of documents you need to send. When collecting these documents, the student services office at Cardiff Law School will be able to provide you with a package detailing the courses you have taken and the syllabus they cover. The package will also contain a description of the high standing of Cardiff and the quality of the education it provides. The Law School is familiar with what is required for your application to succeed. The NCA will also require your final transcript. The formal official certificate will not be available from the University until some weeks after you graduate. Do not become stressed 2

3 during this period: you will not fall behind in the NCA application process. Contact the University Registrar s office and request that your transcript be sent as soon as available to the address provided by the NCA. Documents such as your official transcript can be sent to the NCA long after your initial application. Logically, you might ask why the application must be sent so early, and the answer is simple: logistics. Once the NCA has received your initial documents and payment, you have been entered into their system and they will then await your final documents. For example, an application sent in May could yield a decision date in October. Remember that the NCA is responsible for all applications from foreign law students and applicants need not be Canadian citizens. As a result there could be a lot of paperwork to process, and it is in your interest to try to beat the rush. Upon which subjects will you be examined? Once the NCA has returned with an assessment of your degree, it will identify areas of law where you will be required to demonstrate competency by passing an examination. You will have three years from this notification within which you must satisfy the examiners in the subjects specified. Cardiff University students will be asked to complete about four or five examinations for the NCA. The relatively low number of examinations required from Cardiff students reflects the quality of the degree you have obtained. The number varies according to - the reputation of the law school at which you studied; the number of years you have spent studying law; the class of degree you have obtained; the syllabus for each course that you took; and the mark achieved in relevant courses. (A mark above 50 at Cardiff is likely to mean that you will be excused an examination in that subject). The subjects for examination are set out below. The first fiver are the courses upon which you are most likely to be examined whereas most of the others have direct comparators at Cardiff and if you chose to take these courses at Cardiff you may avoid the NCA examination. So company law may satisfy the business organizations subject and the other three core subjects are compulsory at Cardiff anyway. 3

4 The five Mandatory Subjects are: (a) Canadian Administrative Law; (b) Canadian Constitutional Law; (c) Canadian Criminal Law; (d) Foundations of Canadian Law; and (e) Canadian Professional Responsibility. The remaining four Core Subjects are: (a) Contracts; (b) Property; (c) Torts; and (d) Business Organizations Learning materials and past examinations are documented on the NCA website. There are support groups on Facebook for those of you looking for used exam materials or with further questions closer to application or exam deadlines. Additional subjects Cardiff does not accept students on a two year accelerated senior status law degree which is offered by some other universities. There are various reasons for this. One of these is that such students are now required to complete further challenge examinations from the following list: (a) Civil Procedure (b) Commercial Law (c) Evidence (d) Family Law (e) Remedies (f) Tax Law (g) Trusts School Leavers and those without two years of post-secondary education The NCA now specify what is required should you be one of the minority of Cardiff students who straight from school or, for whatever reason, without two years of post-secondary education. You will be required to show competency in any of the selected subjects listed above. When and where are the examinations held? The fee for entering the examination in each subject is about 400 dollars. Examinations are held in January, May, August and October, although not all subjects are examined each time. Exams are held in Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver but it is also possible to set up another 4

5 location for the exam to be written, although this will incur extra expense. For example, NCA exams are regularly written in London. Although you study for these exams in your own time, you can also work with a firm, or even complete a Masters degree during the accreditation process. However, you cannot enter articles because Provinces first require all exams to be passed and the certificate of accreditation to be granted. The exams are marked on a pass/fail basis and Cardiff students have a reputation for obtaining the necessary grades. The exams can also be completed through Canadian Universities. This process enables the applicant to take a law course at a Canadian Law School and have the final exam for the course count as their NCA examination. If you were to take a number of such examinations timetabling might mean that you could, in effect, be resident for up to eighteen months in a Canadian law school. Further information on this is available on the NCA website. Finally Once the examinations are completed and you have shown competency in all necessary fields, the NCA will send you a Certificate of Qualification making you eligible to enter the Bar. This will not mean that you now have a Canadian Law Degree. You will have gained a UK Law Degree and a Certificate of Qualification satisfying the requirements for Bar entry. Further requirements for the Bar, such as the fees involved, can be found on individual Provincial Bar Association websites. A good degree from Cardiff will make you more appealing to firms in Canada, as will the Pro Bono work which you are able to do at Cardiff for it is one of its strengths. Cardiff has many resources open to you and I suggest you seek them out to get the most from the experience. 2. Work and Travel in Europe The second option open to you is to travel in Europe before returning home. The UK is perfectly situated: with continental Europe at its fingertips, not to mention all that England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales have to offer. Your visa will enable you to remain in the UK for up to four months after you finish your degree. That is up to October. Ultimately, this second option will appeal to those of you looking for a quick breather before you enter the legal workforce, and you should not dismiss it too quickly. 5

6 Details about staying in the UK are on the immigration pages for international students in students support centre - International Student Support also have a facebook page which is updated regularly with important notices and useful information for international students. o type 'International Student Support' into the facebook search box. If you click Like us you will be kept you up to date with any changes that may affect you and useful news and information. 3. Qualifying as a Lawyer in the UK Finally, there is the option of staying in the UK to practise law. This is rarely done, although a few students have met their life partners when studying a Cardiff and have then entered the local legal profession. To qualify you will be required to take a one year professional training course. This will be either the Legal Practise Course (LPC) for intending solicitors, or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) for barristers. You must apply for these courses during your final year of study. You will also then need to extend your UK Student Visa. In order to comply with UK Immigration, you will need to contact the UK Border Authority either by telephone or online. On completion of the LPC you will be required to complete an eighteen month Training Contract, offered by an accredited law firm. These contracts are necessary in order to become a fully qualified practising professional, and are very competitive. I would strongly recommend that you try to arrange a training contract before you begin your professional training course. They are very difficult to obtain. You may find the contacts necessary to help you, through work with Pro Bono Schemes or the Innocence Project offered by the Law School. The Vacation Schemes provided by firms are also excellent ways to learn more about practice and network with firms. These are extremely competitive as well, but worth the effort if your goal is to remain in the UK. Enjoy Cardiff as much as I did. Good luck! Thomas MacLaren assisted by Professor Richard Lewis Cardiff Law School - Revised and updated February 2015 Please check 6

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