Over the past few years, it has become clear that more and more Indian law graduates are looking to move jurisdictions or, at the very least, gain dual qualifications. Thus far, the US and the UK have been traditional favourites in this regard, but both, Australia and Canada are slowly catching up.
To better assist such lawyers, we try and bring first hand accounts of those who have made, or are in the process of making, the move. In this edition, we interview Meghna Agarwal, a 2013 graduate of NLIU Bhopal who is looking to enrol at the Law Society of Ontario. As the first step towards this, Meghna has successfully gained a qualification from the National Committee of Accreditation, a process that she talks about in greater detail below.
Alright let’s start from the start – as an India-qualified lawyer, what made you look at obtaining Bar qualification in Canada?
Since my college days, I always dreamt of being licensed to practice in more than one jurisdiction. Canada is one of the fastest-growing economies and has immense opportunities for new immigrants, especially contract professionals.
In Canada, diversity and inclusion are norms and not privileges. It is a wonderful multicultural eco-system with strong values where everyone is respected. I knew that a chance to work there would help me thrive in my personal and professional life. So finally, when I decided to pursue my bucket list, Canada was the obvious choice.
Did you ever consider studying in Canada as a means to this goal?
Like every international trained lawyer, I had two options either to appear for National Committee on Accreditation (“NCA”) examinations or take up a master’s course in Canada. Although pursuing a masters is a great way to become a part of the Canadian Legal Community, I opted for the NCA instead. These are self-paced exams which help in building a foundation for the Canadian Law.
The NCA is an equally rewarding path as all candidates need to undergo mandatory articleship (unless granted a waiver) before their call to the Bar, this helps in gaining practical insight into the Canadian Law.
How did you go about preparing for the NCAs? Any advice in terms of timelines to keep in mind and/or preparation materials?
I initiated my NCA process and after my assessment, I was asked to demonstrate my competence in five core subjects i.e. Foundations of Canadian Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Administrative Law, and Professional Responsibility. These areas of the law have a particular development in the Canadian jurisdiction, and are thus mandatory for all students.
The competence may be showcased in one of three ways:
- Through the NCA’s examinations;
- By taking courses in these subjects in a Canadian Law school; or
- A combination of (1) and (2).
I opted for the first. I purchased a few recommended books, texts, and notes. Being a working mom, it took me almost a month to prepare for each exam. I cleared all my papers in the first attempt.
The NCA Process and Timelines
First of all, one needs to complete an individual assessment from NCA. The assessment is completed within 1-2 months, depending on their workload and the date on which they receive the student transcripts from the university.
Once the assessment is complete, NCA allots subjects for exams or in-classroom training. The subjects are allotted based on the candidate’s grades and jurisdiction.
The exams take place four times a year i.e. January, May, August, and October. Mandatory subjects can be challenged in all quarters, however, optional subjects are offered bi-annually. Each subject has to be qualified separately. The subjects can be attempted in any order. All exams can be attempted in one sitting or bifurcated in 2-3 sittings as per the candidate’s convenience. There is almost a two-month registration deadline for each quarter.
However, the exams can be canceled up to 24 hours in advance for a nominal cancellation fee. The exams are conducted in Canada as well as in New Delhi, India. It is a three hours open book exam. Writing structured answers in IRAC form (Issue, Rule, Application Conclusion), flagging the material, solving sample papers, carefully reading the question paper and sticking time allotted to each question is essential to clear each subject.
In your experience, how difficult are these exams? Does prior knowledge of common law jurisdictions help?
The NCAs are open book examinations but it doesn’t mean they are easy. It is a qualifying exam- you either pass or fail the subject (marks are not provided unless you fail). The minimum passing criterion is 50%. In the event of failure, a detailed failure report with marks is provided to the candidate.
Exam questions are structured to assess the conceptual clarity and reasoning of the candidates. Until you are well-versed with the entire syllabus locating answers becomes extremely challenging.
Having prior knowledge of common law does help. Since India and Canada are both common law jurisdictions, they have a similar legal foundation. However, some legal concepts are very unique to Canada.
How are you going about preparing for the Ontario Bar exams? Any advice for prospective applicants?
Once you qualify the NCAs, you can become a member of the Law Society of Ontario (“LSO”). You may appear for the LSO bar exam, complete your articleship requirement (complete 10-month articleship/opt for Ryerson University’s LPP program/apply for article waiver), or do them simultaneously.
To clear the Ontario Bar, one needs to pass both Solicitor and Barrister examinations. The exams can be taken in one sitting or can be divided into two sittings. LSO provides exhaustive material for the exams. The barrister exam is divided into sections that cover the civil procedure, criminal procedure, family law, and public law, while the solicitor exam covers real estate, estate planning, and business law.
I would advise everyone appearing for NCA to study for their professional responsibility paper seriously as the Solicitor and Barrister exams have a plethora of questions relating to ethics and professional responsibility.
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