International trained lawyers: overcoming the stigma

International trained lawyers: overcoming the stigma
One of my peers’ main anxieties in law school was the never-ending question: Where will I article after law school? And worse, what if the dreaded rumour mill rang true — that the market was so tough that jobs were one in a million? While such questions are common in the minds of final-year law students, the frets and fears of my peers were coupled with an additional barrier: We were internationally trained lawyers.

To be frank, my peers and I weren’t offered the opportunity to complete our law degrees at the Osgoodes of the world. And, as a result, we sought our legal education in the United Kingdom. It’s where, by all accounts, we experienced a fairly rigorous training program with demanding courses, challenging examinations and a fairly stimulating learning environment. And yet, despite being trained to become decent lawyers, we were faced with the transition back to Canada, and the possible stigma that came along with an international law degree.

While the legal community may view such training as a possible disadvantage, it really doesn’t have to be. As many lawyers informed me during my articling term, internationally trained lawyers can escape the stigma of being trained overseas by doing the right things after law school.

For those searching for articling, whether internationally trained or not, yes, the market is certainly competitive. But finding an articling position, and receiving a hire-back offer, isn’t impossible. The following insights helped me the most during my search for articling.

1.    Be proactive

Internationally trained lawyers are most likely very familiar with the transition process to become a licensed lawyer in Canada. The NCA examinations can be a long process for those who have to write more than four. But, it’s important not to let those examinations define you. Get those exams over with. As you write them, look for opportunities to connect with lawyers practising in your areas of interest. Whether you are internationally trained or not, articling positions will not come to find you. Be proactive, inform yourself of the current opportunities available and act on them. 

2.    Be informed and  be a sponge

Whether you are internationally trained or not, young lawyers and articling students I’ve spoken to feel the same as me: What if I don’t know enough? What if the client asks me a question . . . and I don’t know the answer? So, be a sponge. While going through the NCA examinations, inform yourself about the current state of the law in your preferred practice area and the practical steps to complete deals or client files. Inform yourself about the types of agreements associated with specific transactions, the characteristics of contracts or agreements common in the transactions in your preferred practice areas. If you work at a law firm while you go through the NCA process, learn about the process behind deals, the programs and software and about the protocols for client meetings. The more you soak in about the practicalities of deals, transactions or files that law firms or corporations deal with on a daily basis, the more you can show that you can be a substantive contributor as an articling student.

3.    Be confident

For those who are internationally trained, be confident in your training. If you feel the stigma, don’t let it define you. While law school taught us the law, what we do, and what we learn after, also matters.
During my articling term, a Bay Street lawyer sat back and thoughtfully indicated to me that, five years from now, some law firms or corporations may not care where a candidate went to law school. But a candidate’s experience, practical skills and knowledge post-law school are just as much, if not more, of a consideration.

Those worrying about finding articling positions, whether internationally trained or not, need not dwell on their anxieties just yet. Be proactive, learn the law and the practical steps associated with it and let this be an encouragement to you that there are articling positions available and obtainable, particularly for those with similar training to mine.

Barbara de Dios is an articling student in-house at Dundee Agricultural Corporation (a subsidiary of Dundee Corporation), a capital markets and international investment firm in downtown Toronto. She completed her B.A. (Hons.) at the University of Toronto and received her LL.B from the University of Birmingham School of Law in the United Kingdom. She will be called to the Ontario Bar in September 2016.

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