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Identifying Your Goals and Getting Licensed to Practice Law in Canada

June 26, 2023

Christine Briggs

Internationally trained lawyers are not one thing – they may be immigrants to Canada, international students interested in studying in Canada, or Canadians who have completed their law degree outside of Canada. Internationally trained lawyers each have their own unique academic/professional/lived experience which helps to inform their interests and goals. However, regardless of your background, if you are an internationally trained lawyer who is interested in becoming licensed to practice law in Canada, you likely have questions about the process.

At OsgoodePD we’ve spent a decade of experience working in this space, helping thousands of internationally trained lawyers fulfill their goal of becoming licensed to practice law in Canada. Every day we connect with current and prospective students about their goals, to share advice and information about the process. In this four-part blog series, we hope to share this information with a broader audience. We’ll cover the four most common topics students and prospective students want to discuss:

Part 1 – Identifying Your Goals and Getting Licensed to Practice Law in Canada
Part 2 – The NCA Process
Part 3 – Consider Your Options for NCA Requirements
Part 4 – Landing a legal job in Canada

Keep your long-term goal top of mind
Before beginning the NCA process, the first thing you need to ask yourself is ‘what are my goals?’ In answering this question, don’t be short-sighted. Oftentimes, NCA candidates’ answer to this question is ‘to complete my NCA challenge exams.’ While this is correct in the short term, this shouldn’t be your goal – this is a step you have to take on your pathway toward your goal. Completing the NCA exams will not dictate the trajectory of your career. Instead, even before you have entered the NCA process, you need to start thinking about your end goal: to secure a job in a practice area you are interested in.

With your end goal in mind, be self-reflective about your academic and professional experience, your personal achievements, and interests.

What’s your story?
Whether you’re applying for a job or applying for an academic program – you need to have a clear and compelling story (or narrative). Think of your story as talking about your CV in a human way, taking all the elements of your lived/work experience to explain why you want a particular job or practice area, or even to explain why you would benefit from admission into a particular academic program.

Here’s an example – imagine you’re the hiring manager at a full-service firm looking to fill a corporate lawyer role and you are looking at three cover letters:

To illustrate the importance of a well-crafted narrative, imagine you’re the hiring manager for a corporate lawyer position, and you’re reviewing the following three cover letters:

1. A highly experienced professional who has spent 15 years in criminal law, with no clear connection to corporate law, and is enrolled in an LLM in Business law. The applicant does however mention that the practice of criminal law requires resilience, and as such they would be able to thrive in a corporate law setting.

2. A recent law school graduate who, despite having no corporate law work experience, presents a persuasive and engaging narrative emphasizing their passion for the field. They describe their active participation in a business law organization during law school, the corporate law courses they took as electives, and a well-researched paper they wrote on a niche aspect of corporate law. The applicant draws parallels between their competitive team sports background and the resilience, teamwork, and discipline required in a corporate law role, showcasing their ability to adapt and thrive in the industry.

3. A junior applicant who may not have extensive experience, but demonstrates enthusiasm for corporate law and highlights coursework, internships, or volunteer work that directly or indirectly relates to the position.

In this scenario, although the second applicant may not have direct experience, their persuasive and coherent narrative would likely make them a competitive candidate. A genuine interest in corporate law is demonstrated by involvement in business law organizations during law school, and this combined with their proactive involvement and commitment to growth and learning, could make them a competitive candidate. By drawing parallels from their unrelated sports experience, and linking it to the practice of corporate law, the applicant is humanizing their CV as well as signaling to the hiring manager that they understand and possess the skills required for the role.

The first applicant however has not created a compelling narrative, despite having extensive experience and being enrolled in an LLM in Business law. This applicant does not demonstrate self-awareness; nothing in their CV, aside from an LLM, relates to corporate law. The lack of self-awareness is further compounded by equating the practice of criminal law with the practice of corporate law. Although completing an LLM in Business law is impressive and relevant to corporate law, the hiring manager may look at this applicant as someone who does not really know what they are interested in since their 15 years of practice experience was in a wholly separate subject.

The third applicant would also be a competitive candidate, especially if the role required a few years of practice experience. By taking seemingly unrelated experiences and finding ways to link them to the role, the applicant was able to demonstrate what makes them unique while also displaying their self-awareness and ability for analogical reasoning.

Crafting a strong narrative can help you make a lasting impression and increase your chances of success in corporate law jobs or academic applications.

Why do this work now?
Many people find creating this narrative difficult and put this off. It’s tempting to say ‘I’ll craft my narrative once I’m at the stage of applying for jobs’. However, your story should inform how you proceed through the NCA process.

Developing your narrative early in the NCA process has several advantages:

1. Clear Goals: A well-defined narrative will help you set clear goals throughout the accreditation process. Knowing your desired practice area and understanding your strengths and weaknesses will enable you to focus on the most relevant subjects, electives, and experiences. Setting clear goals early on will help you identify gaps in your experience, and you will have enough time to fill those gaps by pursuing the right work and education experiences (for example by pursuing a short course, or an LLM in the right field).

2. Networking Opportunities: Your narrative will guide how you network, allowing you to connect with professionals and alumni in your preferred practice area. Engaging with like-minded individuals will help you gain valuable insights from the right people.

3. Personal Branding: Crafting a strong narrative early on will assist you in building a consistent personal brand. Your personal brand reflects your unique value in the legal market and helps differentiate you from other candidates. A cohesive personal brand will make you more memorable to potential employers.

As you progress through the NCA process, your narrative will evolve. Regularly re-evaluating and fine-tuning your story ensures it remains relevant and aligned with your goals. This will enable you to better market yourself as you learn more about the nuances of the Canadian legal market.

By shaping your narrative early and allowing it to inform your NCA journey, you will be better prepared when job application time arrives. A persuasive narrative not only distinguishes you in a competitive legal market but also establishes a solid foundation for your professional growth.

The NCA Process
The next part of our blog series discusses the NCA process.

Ready to apply? Applications are open for Winter 2025. Apply Now.