Dentons, Imperial launch program for lawyers from abroad

Number of certificates of qualification issued to foreign lawyers by FLSC (Click on the dots)

Dentons is launching an articling program aimed squarely at lawyers who trained abroad.

The firm’s Calgary office is partnering with Imperial Oil Ltd. to offer a year’s articling position to a lawyer who is permitted to work in Canada, but was born elsewhere and graduated from an international law school.

The first six months will be spent at Dentons under the supervision of a senior lawyer. The second six months will be served with Imperial Oil, overseen by a principal in the firm’s legal department.

“Over the past number of years, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of foreign lawyers coming to Calgary trying to get accreditation,” says Cori Ghitter, director of recruitment and professional development for the Calgary office.

“The hoops they have to jump through are numerous,” she adds. “This gives us a mechanism to bring in really talented people outside of our usual structures and find some amazing lawyers who . . . will be of tremendous assistance to us as a firm and the legal community as a whole.”

Internationally-trained lawyers must apply to the National Committee on Accreditation before they can practise in Canada. They normally have to sit exams and complete law school courses in order to obtain a certificate of qualification, which allows them to apply for admission to a provincial bar.

Most lawyers will also have to go through the articling process, even if they have years of experience in their own country.

Dentons is interested in applicants who have completed the NAC process and are looking for an articling post.

The firm would prefer lawyers with some practice experience, but is not setting any particular criteria.

“We’re really open to who they are, what their interests are, and what sort of abilities they’re going to bring,” says Ghitter.

The firm sees a lot of lawyers from Nigeria with experience in the energy sector and had a “tremendous experience” with a Nigerian lawyer who came in on a two-month articling placement.

Dentons has also been involved in a mentorship program with the Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council.

Both of these experiences, added to the firm’s aim to improve levels of diversity, informed the decision to set up the program, says Ghitter.

The barriers to internationally trained lawyers being able to practise in Canada are a “real dilemma,” she admits. On one hand, law societies have an obligation to the public to ensure licensed lawyers have the proper qualifications. This means firms have to think “more broadly” about how to recruit people who have the skills to do well here, she believes.

Figures Legal Feeds obtained from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada show the number of certificates of qualification issued to foreign lawyers has risen to 730 in 2013 from 137 in 2003. Over the past decade, 3,612 certificates have been issued.

The biggest proportion – 26 per cent — of last year’s certificates went to people from England, followed by 24 per cent from the United States, 14 per cent from Australia, 10 per cent from India, and five per cent from Nigeria.

The rest were spread across around 75 other countries, and also included 199 graduates from Canadian civil law programs, from Quebec and the University of Ottawa. These graduates were usually applying to the NCA to get the common law content required for membership in a law society in a common law jurisdiction, said an FLSC spokesman.

Three quarters of certificates were sent to the Law Society of Upper Canada, 13 per cent went to British Columbia, and nine per cent to Alberta, the figures also show.

The deadline for applications to the Dentons/Imperial Oil articling program is Feb. 28, 2014, with interviews to take place in early March. The position will start at Dentons in the third week of June. Submissions can be sent to [email protected]

Update Jan. 27, 3:40 p.m.: Figures from Federation of Law Societies of Canada were corrected.

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