In this guest post,  Riya P. Raaj breaks down the process of enrolling at the Bar in Ontario, Canada for those who graduated with a law degree from outside Canada. 

When you decide to pursue a career in law in Canada, know that the process is a little like when parents say that you pass tenth standard and then it’s an easy journey and you know the truth, deep down, that it never ends.

The path does not get easier, it’s a series of exams, each increasing in time and mental capacity. I am not saying this to discourage anyone, just to prepare you for what you are about to undertake.

Sure it’s fun and games when you are pursuing your LL.M, maybe not Queen’s level or Pilani level of fun, but it is fun when you are still in a school system. Thesis or not, it is still a school/college/university setting with notes, smart teaching technology or plain and simple blackboard techniques with enthusiastic teachers and lazy backbenchers.

Once you graduate and throw those caps in the air (Side note: University of Toronto had no caps to throw), what comes back to your hands is a load of responsibility which no matter how much you toss back into the air, floats back to your hands, heavier than before.

Let me try and break it down for you in simple terms, how the process works.

  1. You have an LL.M from one of the universities but have a foreign degree, unless you have done the GP.LL.M from U of T or Osgoode course from York, you will have to write the NCAs.
  2. If you do either of the above two courses, no NCA’s. If you do not, then the NCA’s are the next step.
  3. NCA stands for the National Committee of Accreditation. The NCA’s are a set of exams where the assessment is based on the academic and professional profile of each applicant. The NCA applies a standard on a national basis so that applicants with common law qualifications obtained outside Canada can apply, regardless of where they wish to practice in Canada. (See more)
  4. Once you clear your NCA’s, you have to apply to the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) to start the process of becoming a lawyer. [Be warned, the above where just qualifications to get to the application stage. They mean nothing if you do not clear the bar exams that I will specify below.]
  5. Once you register with the LSO you will have to write two bar exams, Solicitor and Barrister. [I’ve been asked this multiple times and I will preemptively answer it, no you cannot choose one. Just because you do not want to practice in court, you cannot choose not to write the barrister, it is an all or none deal.]
  6. That’s not where the fun ends. It is just the beginning. Anyone wants to guess how long those exams are? Any guesses, no? It’s like my dad used to say, the lucky number 7. 7 hours in a room full of snivelling, sniffling and sneezing people.
  7. It is open book if that is any consolation. So are the NCA’s. But that does not take away from the fact that these exams are gruelling and take a lot of mental stamina. You get a one hour break between two sessions but is that enough to take away from the fact that you have another three hours to go before you can go home and moan about what an exam it was.
  8. You thought that was where it ended? No way, the fun continues! You also have to finish a ten month articling (paid interning) period to fulfil your LSO requirements.
  9. The date you write your first LSO exam/when you sign up, gives you a three year window to do both the exams and the articling. A three year window. Beg, borrow or steal and get it done people. I have not had the courage to ask what happens if one does not complete it within a three year period and I do not wish to either.
  10. You get three chances in that three year period to write each exam, barrister and solicitor. Do not ask me what happens if you do not make it, again, I am not brave enough to find that answer out.
  11. You can complete exams first or articling or any way or do the exams while you article. It is your mad sandwich to do what you wish to with it.
  12. Assuming you survived that, you get called to the bar and are given your license and can practice like there is no tomorrow.

I could sugarcoat it but my mom taught me not to lie. So, there you go folks. Welcome to Ontario’s legal system, hope to see you on the other side.