The following are some things to consider when determining whether to hire a foreign-trained student.
Thinking outside the box
A candidate who decides to study abroad has shown an appetite for taking calculated risks and thinking outside the box. These qualities benefit any lawyer, and those who have studied abroad have demonstrated both.
Different start dates
Foreign schools may run on different semester cycles. Students from abroad are often not eligible to work for large firms with strict summer or articling student placement schedules unless they are willing to wait until the next hiring cycle. For small firms that have flexible hiring schedules, numerous high-quality candidates that are conflicted out of the traditional articling schedule may be available.
Empathy and multicultural exposure
In studying abroad, law students work with people from a variety of backgrounds different to those in most Canadian cities. This allows them to develop empathy and an understanding of different cultures.
These aptitudes help them communicate with a broader spectrum of people and will help to serve your clients better.
International work experience
A definite plus would be if your student has had a work placement abroad. This experience can translate into a valuable resource for a small firm trying to keep on the cutting edge of the legal profession. Your student may bring to your firm different approaches to cases or ideas about practices and technology that could help your firm.
While there are many positive considerations, they should be weighed against the following.
Deficiency in Canadian legal curriculum
Foreign-trained students will likely not have taken courses in Canadian law. This may result in a steep learning curve upon starting the articling placement. Sole and small firms may not be able to afford the luxury of waiting for a student to develop the foundational knowledge in Canadian law during the placement.
NCA exam schedule
To be eligible to practice in Canada, students must have their degrees assessed by the National Committee on Accreditation. They will likely be required to write a number of equivalency exams. These exams take place at different times throughout the year. Students who studied abroad will, therefore, not necessarily be on the same schedule as Canadian third-year law students to write their licensing examinations in June. Depending on when you hire, the students may have to complete their licensing examinations while completing their articles.
The cost of international education will vary greatly. This can be a pro or a con. Depending on the students’ circumstances and where they studied, they may have a lower debt load. Such students may not be as driven by starting salary expectations and be more inclined to work in a smaller firm.
Hiring an articling student is a difficult task for any firm. A previous article under this column provides guidance for achieving staffing bliss. Foreign-trained students can play a role to that end and should not be discounted out of hand. The right candidate can offer skills and aptitudes developed in a different environment that will serve you and your clients well.
Written in collaboration with Kevin Cheung and Emma Nicholson