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Studying abroad? Plan ahead.

|Written By Shawn Lestage
Studying abroad? Plan ahead.

I graduated in July with an LLB from the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. Many of my classmates were also Canadian and have since embarked on impressive paths ranging from the International Criminal Court in Holland to LLM studies at the University of Toronto.

In our final year, Sonny Grewal and I co-founded Future Project, which has since become an official representative in Canada for several law schools in the United Kingdom. Future Project provides a comprehensive service to students that includes administering applications, entrance scholarships, achievement awards, academic resources, summer legal placement, and cultural transition support as well as the assurance that comes from our first-hand experience.

As an authorized representative, we are compensated by our university partners, which enables us to offer our services at no cost to students. Ultimately our goal is to ensure Canadian law students in the U.K. have an enjoyable and successful experience.

Living and studying in the U.K. was certainly exciting. In addition to receiving a great education, I was able to travel extensively throughout Europe. That international exposure has informed and shaped my world view and is something I wouldn’t trade. Canadians who pursue a legal education in the U.K. return home not only well-educated but also well-travelled.

I can endorse a law degree in the U.K. on the merit of the education alone but it would be wrong, in my view, to discount the life-changing opportunity to live in the U.K. and travel throughout Europe. This is a significant benefit to each student as well as the Canadian legal industry as a whole.

I am almost entirely positive on my experience, however, it would be misleading not to discuss some of the real and perceived challenges associated with studying law overseas.

Firstly, many U.K. law graduates are asked to explain why they chose to study overseas. Due to limited seats and a rigorous admissions landscape, thousands of capable students are not admitted to study law in Canada. Quite honestly, this is most often why Canadians pursue a foreign legal education.

In some circles, this has given rise to the precarious notion Canadian law schools and their students are superior to those in other jurisdictions. The fact is students in Canadian law schools are the ones who planned ahead and outperformed their peers at that stage. Thankfully, for those who weren’t so proactive, myself included, the U.K. has some of the world’s best law schools.

Secondly, the National Committee on Accreditation’s assessment process is a real obstacle foreign students must face. This process, designed to determine if a student has a sufficient understanding and knowledge of Canadian law, involves an individual assessment of each applicant to determine which and how many exams are required to qualify to take the bar in Canada.

As most NCA students will attest, the process is not perfect. However, for recent U.K. graduates, it may be warranted to withhold judgment for a few years. Pursuing a career in law is certainly not a sprint to the finish line. In my opinion, any student who has graduated from a U.K. law school is more than capable of obtaining the Certificate of Qualification necessary to begin articling.

Thirdly, securing employment is more challenging for foreign-educated students. Although the path is plainly easier for domestic students, much of the challenge stems from a narrow view of the employment landscape.

As noted by Sanjeev Anand, dean at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law, there is a vast shortage of lawyers under the age of 50 in rural communities throughout Saskatchewan. Having personally worked in a law firm in northern British Columbia, I’ve seen this demographic shortfall is not exclusive to Saskatchewan.

Students who are willing to pursue articling in rural communities are much more likely to find employment and a welcoming environment to learn in. For those who are set on staying in an urban centre, Ryerson University and the Law Society of Upper Canada have recently launched the Law Practice Program in order to remove barriers to licensing; a development that should enable career progression for domestic and foreign law graduates alike.

The quality of the education I received in the U.K. was world class and I’m excited about the career options it has afforded me. Nonetheless, I would advise prospective students to identify their goals at the outset and work diligently to achieve them. From my experience, the benefits of studying law in the U.K. have far outweighed both the real and perceived challenges.

Shawn Lestage is the director for Western Canada of the Future Project. He can be reached at

  • Europe has so many options

    Edgar Mansfield
    Originally from Canada, I also had two separate semesters abroad in Europe during my LLB. We tend to forget how different some corners of Europe are from each other. Have a look at a site like and you'll see what I mean. One semester I spent in Spain, the other in Estonia. Both very valuable experiences, but both in a completely different way. If you are still studying (or about to study), you should definitely pursue a degree abroad or at least consider one semester overseas. It will teach you many things beyond what you learn in the classroom!
  • EU citizen

    Tatiana So
    Hi all,
    I have lived in both the EU and Canada. I currently live in the EU. I went to university in Canada and now I am doing a law degree in the EU. Being both an EU citizen and Canadian I do not understand what the issue is. Are all EU citizens who graduate from UK law schools in their country of no value? I went to the second best program in Canada, there were others who didn't. In the end I lost my job to a graduate of a lesser prestigious school. Guess why? The employer could pay her less. There goes my prestigious degree with honours.
  • If Canadian lawyer, stay in Canada!

    Travis Franklin

    If you want to practice law in Canada, go to a school in Canada. If U.S, go to a tier one school in the U.S. If UK, go to Cambridge, LSE, Oxford.

    Canadians who go abroad are seen as weak candidates for articles back here simply because you did not study Canadian law, and the perceived prejudice that you chose the backdoor. Lets face it, Canadians who want to be lawyers in Canada only go to these lower-tier schools abroad because they could not get into a school here. To be frank, even if it takes you a year or two it is not that hard to get into some of the schools here, such as Windsor, Manitoba, TRU, etc. At the age of 21 I got into Osgoode, Western, Queens and Ottawa on my first try.

    Think carefully before pursuing a law degree abroad if your goal is to practice law in Canada. NCA exams can take up to 2-3 years for many people and it in no way guarantees an articling position.
  • Studying Abroad

    Lindsay Tupper

    I am looking into some law schools in England to obtain an LLB and then an LLM. I am finishing my Canadian undergrad in Accounting and am interested in specializing in tax law. I'm not too interested in how people negatively perceive a law degree from the UK - given the increasing demand for lawyers as the baby boomers retire, I would rather have the international experience.

    Did you have to complete the NCA qualification exams before articling in Canada or were you able to do this while articling? How long did this take you? Do you think it is easier to come back to Canada with an LLM?


  • sussex

    julie cha
    Hi Lindsey, did you end up pursuing a LLB at Sussex?
  • RE: Studying abroad? Plan ahead.

    I think what you're doing is great. When I decided to go to Europe to study law I can honestly say that it never occurred to me that it was the easier alternative to studying here - I assumed with my academic history and testing skills I could go anywhere I wanted. But some people study abroad for the reasons you've set out, or (as in my case), because of an interest in another legal tradition. Back in the infancy of the NCA it had many of us do 2 years of Canadian legal studies after we returned with our LL.B.s I took advantage of it and tried 2 of the top Ontario law schools. Studying alongside students who had taken the more traditional route, I can honestly say my European legal training was infinitely harder, but much more satisfying. Good luck with your project, Shawn.
  • RE: Peter

    Shawn Lestage
    The fact is, demand is high and supply is low for seats in Canadian law schools. Subsequently the students at Canadian law schools are the ones who planned ahead and outperformed their peers at that early stage. The reward for planning ahead is obviously admission. Having said that, barriers to admission do not equate to a better education. A cursory view of the QS Rankings or THE World University Rankings demonstrates as much. Further, I would draw your attention to the multitude of successful foreign educated lawyers practicing in Canada at every conceivable level, including the bench. In my brief legal experience to date I have been asked by clients where I went to law school exactly never. Successful lawyers are not the product of LSAT scores or transcripts. Where you or I studied law is not indicative of whether we will become successful lawyers. Much like other professions, success is determined in reference to people, namely, clients and colleagues.
  • Presumptuous mentality

    Hi, Thanks for this article, it brings up interesting issues. I believe it is quite presumptuous to assume that a UK law education is inferior to a Canadian education just based on the admission requirements. It's very simplistic to think that way when you don't consider the education system in England. UK high school is far for challenging than an Ontario education. Second, please explain to me, anyone, how an undergraduate is relevant for law school? If I take Portuguese for four years how is that relevant for Law school? Third, not all universities are equal in Canada, universities are not subject to an external examiner which would guarantee that a 90% in one university would also be a 90%. I have had the benefit of attending two universities in Canada, one was super easy to get a 90% (it was like high school) several people from this uni went to law school after, doesn't mean they were necessarily smarter as it was easy, but nobody wants to admit this as it would put the system in question, so it is just better to assume to our system in Canada being superior to others rather than attempt to improve it. Then I went to another university for undergrad and experienced the variance in grading, my marks dropped 20 %. This is a discrepancy that needs to be explained and school over here needs to be standardized. Second, in England if you wish to be a lawyer, an LLB is not enough, you then have to proceed to the vocational stage where you are exposed to the vocation itself. Law schools in Canada do not have the same system, there are more things to say on this point but for the sake of brevity I will leave it as that. Again it is very simplistic to arrive at a conclusion without knowing much about another system. Just some perspective on the matter, that I wanted to share with others.
  • RE: Sean Lestage

    Canadian Law Student
    I didn't plan ahead to become a lawyer. In fact, my grades after undergrad were awful. As with many Canadian law students in my class, I had to do additional years of undergraduate work, repeat the LSAT, volunteer, and work in order to improve my application enough to get accepted by a Canadian law school (I got in after my 3rd attempt). Yes I wanted to be a lawyer; but the truth is I was not yet ready to compete with such an intelligent peer group.

    Saying that "the demand is high and supply is low for seats in Canadian law schools" and using that as justification for going abroad is just plain wrong. If you can't compete, rather than improve yourself, just go to a country where any Tom/Dick or Harry can enter law school as long as they have the $. University level education is not required to get accepted to law degree in the UK. All you need is a high school education and access to money.
  • @Canadian Law Student

    Beg to differ
    Every Tom, Dick, and Harry cannot get into an ivy league equivalent in the UK.
    Even though it is easier to get accepted into the UK than it is in a Canadian Law School doesn't mean that it is easier to succeed. Lots of Canadian students that I've met who have gone to the UK to study law say that it is much harder to achieve higher marks than it was studying humanities at U of T.

    Your comments are nothing more than uninformed biases.
  • Staw Man

    Canadian Law Student
    I'm glad you just said that getting accepted into a UK law school doesn't mean it's easier to succeed [in Canada]. It's harder. Do you know why? Because Canadian Law Schools teach Canadian Law while UK law schools teach law in the UK. Canadian employers want students who studied Canadian Law.

    And by the way, the 'Ivy League Schools' (I suppose you mean top tier) you refer to are not where Canadians who couldn't get into Canadian law school go. They go to the lowest ranked schools who can't attract enough local talent to fill their class: e.g. Leicester. They accept almost all who apply so I agree with you when you say it is harder for them to get higher marks than it was studying humanities at U of T. These aren't our best students.

    I'm not trying to be rude or hurt anyone's feelings but I'm glad someone was this blunt with me when I was deciding whether or not to take the easy route and go to the UK.
  • Beg to differ

    Beg to differ
    No. What you claim is not necessarily true in all cases.
    It's true that some students who cannot get into law school in Canada choose to go to the UK. It's wrong to assume that every student who chooses to go to the UK does so because they are mediocre.I graduated with a 3.7 at U of T while studying full-time and working 20 hours a week. I was enrolled in three programs of study. I achieved higher marks than the class average, usually. I graduated with distinction. I've taken practice LSATs and they are not very challenging for me. In short, I'm sure I could get into a law school in Ontario if I wanted to. I just really don't want to.
    I hated U of T. I found the students around me to be shallow and closed-minded. I want to get an international experience by going to Nottingham or Queen Mary. You're telling me that because I chose to go to the UK, that I will be perceived as taking the "easy way"? Even if I'm top in my class at City London or Bristol Law? ... :/
  • Nope

    Canadian Law Student
    Yes, I'm telling you that you will be perceived as taking the "easy way" or the "back door" into the profession. That fact that this is news to you is fascinating.

    Let me tell you right now that nobody will believe you got a 3.7 GPA at UofT + found that the LSAT was not challenging and then chose to go to one of the lowest ranked Universities in the UK for the "International Experience."

    If you wanted the international experience, Why didn't you go to Oxford, Cambridge or the University of London? Moreover, why didn't you go to a Canadian University and do a semester or two abroad? If you didn't like Ontario, what about Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, BC, etc...

    If you did get a 3.7 at UofT, employers will question your lack of judgement for going for going to a lower ranked school in the UK. Doesn't matter if you are the top student. The Top UK law student that wrote this article isn't even working as a lawyer.
  • But these are high -ranking...

    Beg to differ
    Those schools are all high-ranking... some of them have the best law schools in the world. What if I do go to Oxford, Cambridge or the University of London? I never said I was comparing UT Law with a low-ranking UK Law School.I don't understand why there is so much hubris involved. Why can't someone decide that they would have a better educational experience in a UK Law School than in Canada without it being about having lower marks or trying to take the easy route? Again, I hear that law school in the UK is much harder... they actually expect you to write well, for one. And some of them have higher profile moot courts than any school in Canada. You seem very sure of how employers think. I'm sure going away will close some doors, but I'm also sure that it will present other opportunities. Besides, I thought that networking was more important today than the level of prestige of your law school...seeing as how Ontario law students are having a harder and harder time finding employment
  • Read carefully before commenting

    Canadian Law Student
    3. You seem to overestimate how much employers pay attention to Candidates. If a firm has 200+ resumes for 1 - 4 jobs, they will be looking for a reason to cut candidates instead of keep them. One of the ways they cut candidates is to eliminate those who went to the low ranked international law schools that cannot attract enough local talent to fill their seats (the back door people).

    I am glad that you brought up how important networking is. Do you really think a student going to law school abroad will have the same ability to network as those who go to school domestically. Probably not. It is worse; MUCH, MUCH worse. Canadian law schools have Canadian law firms visit their campus and conduct interviews with their students. No firm will go out of their way to fly to a law degree mill in the UK.
  • I think I get it

    Beg to differ
    I am reading carefully, I'm just disagreeing with you; no need to get emotional. Law firms aren't the only place where lawyers can practice. I think I realize that everything that you're saying makes sense if you want to be a Bay St-type; there are more options than working in a firm. You don't even know what sort of law I'm interested in but you're positive that I'll be at a great disadvantage; they do teach Canadian law in the schools that I'm interested in; Canadian judges attend moots in England every year. I'm saying that people typically know less about good and bad ideas than they think they do. And maybe everything you're saying was absolutely true for law students three years ago; can't be sure of what will happen three years from now. I'm pointing out the hubris thing again. I don't want to study in an environment where everyone is CERTAIN of how to achieve success (i.e. UofT). I think my version of success might be different from yours. Thanks for your opinions.
  • That is not it

    Canadian Law Student
    And the prejudice against a law degree from these degree mills was not the practice just 3 years ago; that is the practice now. If you want evidence of what it will be like 3 years from now, take a look at the LPP program at Ryerson. It is made up of candidates who could not secure articles. Over half of the students are NCA students from degree mills and the program has been a colossal failure. Most of the students have not been granted a placement because no firm wants to hire an NCA student when they can have their hands on a Canadian law grad for the same price.
  • Oh my

    Beg to differ
    I am painting U of T with a "wide brush" because that was my unfortunate experience. You're awfully emotional about this. I know successful NCA lawyers working in Toronto; quite a few so something must be off with what you're saying. And again: I'm not talking about going to a "mill school". I want to go to a very good school, perhaps one better than a Canadian school. Perhaps I want to practice international law. Perhaps I want to do research instead of practice as a lawyer. That's what I'm saying. That's what I meant by Bay st lawyer. You're too emotional so I'll have this debate with someone more rational. Thank you!
  • Respond to my points please

    Canadian Law Student
    You wish to use your law degree as a legal researcher here in Canada? Why in the world would you think a law degree from Nottingham or Queen Mary would put you in a superior position over someone who did their law degree in Canada? And by the way, you would not be unique. There are thousands of NCA students in Canada. Some of these Schools (e.g. Bond with over 200 Canadians) have a larger graduating Canadian class then Canadian Schools like Lake Head.

    Rather than dismiss my whole argument and call me emotional, why don’t you address my points? A major part about becoming a lawyer is being able to argue logically and not relying on fallacious reasoning. Who knows, maybe going to Nottingham is better than going to UofT for your law degree in certain situations if you wish to return to Canada. Convince me and other readers why that this is true.
  • Because

    Beg to differ
    I'm done with the debate thanks. I just wanted to hear from other points of view. I'm not interested in convincing you of anything. I've already found what I came here looking for. I don't think you'd be interested in what I think about your points. You have helped me with my decisions though. Thanks and best of luck with your future.
  • Respond to my points plese

    Canadian Law Student
    I know that there are quite a few people who have served in Afghanistan and successfully survived. Does that make Afghanistan a safe country to visit? Absolutely not. Your limited experience does not reflect the overall picture of the hurdles NCA lawyers face in Toronto. Please address the point about the Ryerson LPP I mentioned earlier.

    The schools that you mentioned that you wanted to go to for ‘international experience’ (Nottingham and Queen Mary) would be considered degree mills for Canadian who couldn’t get into law school in Canada. As mentioned earlier, no international law school is better at teaching Canadian law than a Canadian law school.

    Please clarify what you mean by international law. If it is international business you wish to practice, you will be restricted to the Bay Street firms here in Canada. I hope I don’t have to explain to you what a disadvantage you’d be applying to one of them.
  • That is not it

    Canadian Law Student
    How does everything I am saying only make sense for Bay Street? In what capacity would you be better off in Canada if you went abroad to a law school where they can’t attract enough domestic talent to fill their class? Go on, list off a few types of employers in Canada who would rather hire a grad fresh from a degree mill (remember, we are not talking about top tier schools) in the UK over someone who did their law degree in Canada. You can’t.
    You are very naïve to say that everyone at UofT is CERTAIN of how to achieve success. Talk about painting with a wide brush. Please don’t ever mention that as a reason for why you went to a degree mill abroad, you will not be taken seriously.
  • Read carefully before commenting

    Canadian Law Student
    Listen, you are obviously not paying attention or understanding what my arguments are. I will summarize them here:

    1. No international law school will be better at teaching Canadian law than a Canadian law school. If you want to become a lawyer in Canada where competition for articles is tough, you should go to the School that teaches you the best Canadian Law. The conclusion is to go to a Canadian law School.

    2. Employers know that students either get into a Canadian Law school, Top Tier International Law School or one of the international Law Schools that cannot attract enough domestic students to fill their class. It is the students in this last group that employers assume are academically inferior.
  • There are top schools in the UK...

    Beg to differ
    No one said I'm going to a low ranked university. Those schools have some of the best law schools in the world. Check the rankings. And what if I do go to Oxford, Cambridge, or the University of London? I don't understand your point. I'm obviously going to try to get into a good school, just one in a different place.

    I just think that there's so much hubris in this. Why can't someone prefer to go somewhere other than a Canadian Law School? Why is it so unbelievable? ... You also seem very confident about what employers will think. Obviously this choice will close some doors, but I think it will also present more opportunities than people are willing to acknowledge.
    I'm more inclined to think that networking and contacts are more important today than whether someone goes to U of T or Oxford Law.
  • RE: Studying abroad? Plan ahead.

    Peter North
    While this is somewhat of an informative piece, with all due respect, the author is portraying an image that is not necessarily reflective of facts. Most Canadian law students that choose to "study abroad" are unable to attain acceptance to a Canadian law school for a variety of reasons (eg. bombed the LSAT, subpar UGPA, lack of work experience, etc), the lite T14 US schools and the prestigious Oxbridge notwithstanding.The influx of law grads, those entering the profession through the "backdoor", is key driving reason as to why the LSUC, for example, has implemented the non-articling alternative (ie. LPP program). The stigma of being a "foreign-trained grad" (read: second-tier law grad) will always be there. And rightfully so. This is also why almost all Canadians those that go to "study abroad" to a no-name law school, upon return face enormous backlash especially when it comes to securing gainful employment in the corporate sector, Big Law, etc.