The long road to call to the Ontario Bar

By: Law is Cool · August 29, 2010 · Filed Under Law Career · 16 Comments 

Guest post by Linelle S. Mogado, Esq.

Linelle Mogado

Welcome to the beginning of your law career in Canada!  I am pleased to provide you with this guide to the process I went through to obtain my license to practice in Ontario.

Let me be clear: I’m a U.S. law grad from Toronto, and spent a few years in practice in California.  This description is specific to my experience.  Many of you will have years of experience in other countries, or will be fresh graduates from schools in the U.K., New Zealand, and other fine places in the Commonwealth and beyond.  There are constant changes happening in this process as well, so you’re wise to get the latest and greatest info out there.  I share this info in the spirit of sharing our collective knowledge so that we can reduce the pain for our international colleagues who follow!

I attended law school in Boston, at Northeastern University School of Law and graduated in 2004.  I was “admitted to the California Bar” in 2005.  I will be “called to the bar” in Ontario in January 2011.  All in all, it will have taken me two (did I mention long?) years and over $6,000 (and that’s on the cheap!) to get admitted to practice in the Ontario Bar.

So get ready!  You will have to become familiar with another alphabet soup that will become important in your life: FLSC, NCA, and LSUC.

Be prepared for lots of waiting!  And find creative, productive ways to fill your time (and brain) while you wait.

A.        Overview:

It’s a 3-step process: (1) Get your NCA certification; (2) pass the LSUC Barrister & Solicitor exams; (3) article or have your articles waived.

1.         NCA Certification:

The FLSC is the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, your first gatekeeper.  Here’s more info about it: http://www.flsc.ca/en/about/about.asp.

The National Committee on Accrediation (“NCA”) is the FLSC’s sub-committee that determines what “foreign lawyers” need to do in order to obtain their “NCA Certificate of Qualification.”   More on the NCA here: http://www.flsc.ca/en/foreignLawyers/foreignLawyers.asp.  You need this certificate before you are admitted to the bar exam regsitration for the Law Society of Upper Canada “(LSUC”).  The certificate confirms that you have the equivalency of a Canadian law degree.  To get this certificate, you have to pass a number of law-school level exams, called “Challenge Examinations” and, based on your application, the NCA tells you which subject examinations you must pass.

You might want to check out University of Toronto’s programme for foreign-trained lawyers: http://www.law.utoronto.ca/ITL/.  It was not up and running when I was going through the process so I don’t know much about it.

You can also register as a “special student” in a law school as well, take the courses for the exams you have to take, and pass the exams.  See section “J” of the Guidelines: http://www.flsc.ca/en/foreignLawyers/guidelines.asp.  Passing your exams as a “special student” will count towards your NCA certification as well.  Of course, you have to pay tuition, fees for these courses.  I decided to self-study for these exams because it was cheaper and I felt capable of learning the material on my own.  However, the downside is that self-study requires lots of self-direction, discipline, and is a very solitary endeavour.  There is no easy network of fellow NCA-studiers to tap into, but I always thought it could be easily remedied by a Facebook group or craigslist ad…that I never pursued.  I eventually found study buddies through networking.

2.         LSUC Bar Exams

And now, meet gatekeeper number two: the LSUC.  There’s two things you are registering for: the licensing process itself, and the bar exams. You’ll have to register for this process in early December (beware of a potential moving target here) of the year prior to the year you will take the exams.  Here’s info on the bar exams: http://rc.lsuc.on.ca/jsp/licensingprocesslawyer/exams.jsp.

For studying, you will want to join a study group that will create indices for easily accessing the material you will have to study.  The material is contained in a chunk (~600 for the Barrister’s Exam; ~800 pages for the Solicitor’s Exam) that you will pick up from the LSUC about 6 weeks before your first Exam.  It is also available in searchable pdf form on the LSUC website once you are registered.

So, there’s big fees for all this stuff!  There is some financial assistance available through the LSUC, through the J.S. Denison fund, which requires you to exhaust all other potential sources of financial support.  You can also pay the fees via a payment plan.

3.         Articling

Here’s what you need to know about articling: http://rc.lsuc.on.ca/jsp/licensingprocesslawyer/articling.jsp.

I applied to have my articling requirement waived, based on my experience practicing in California, which was granted.  If you want to apply to have your articling requirement waived, see http://rc.lsuc.on.ca/jsp/licensingprocesslawyer/articlingAbridgment.jsp.

B.        Timeline:

Here’s a summary of my timeline, with relevant links:

February 2009

I applied to the FLSC for a consideration of my credentials.  The Guidelines are here: http://www.flsc.ca/en/foreignlawyers/guidelines.asp.  I completed the “Application Form for Evaluation of Legal Credentials”, attached all information relevant to my legal career, and had to have all my transcripts sent along.  I also had to get a certificate from the California Bar saying I was in good standing.  The application is here http://www.flsc.ca/en/foreignlawyers/applicationForm.asp.  Cost: $525 + $25 to California Bar + cost of transcripts, mailing.  Estimated time for evaluation: 3 months.

June 2009

FLSC informed me that I had to take 4 NCA Challenge Examinations: Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Criminal Law, and Corporations.  See http://www.flsc.ca/en/foreignLawyers/ncaExaminations.asp.  You can find syllabi on this site, and sample exams.  I had a tough time finding sample answers, though.  I highly recommend writing sample exams if time permits.  Cost: $525 per exam.  Total cost: $2,100.

August 2009

The FLSC determined that it would hold exams outside of its regular exam schedule in October 2009.  I decided to wait.

December 2009

I registered LATE for the LSUC Licensing Process.  Save yourself the $79 late fee and register on time!  Information is found here: http://rc.lsuc.on.ca/jsp/licensingprocesslawyer/index.jsp?language=en.  Lots of info here.  You’ll have to find the page that is specific to your cycle, ie. Mine is for those in the process 2010/2011.  There is, of course an application form and fee.  Cost: $169.  Total cost: $248 + passport photos + cost of having your application notarized.

Started studying for NCA exams.  The syllabi, answer guides, and sample exams are posted on the NCA website.  See http://www.flsc.ca/en/foreignLawyers/ncaExaminations.asp.  I purchased new and used textbooks (craigslist, kijiji).  Cost: $413.

January 2010

Started working on Articling Exemption application to the LSUC.  This involves getting letters of reference from people who know your work, so you must allow sufficient time for this.

I took 4 NCA exams over 4 days in a row.

February 2010

Filed Articling Exemption Application.  Cost: $168 + mailing cost.

April 2010

Found out I passed all 4 NCA exams.

Registered for LSUC Barrister and Solicitor exams.  Cost: $630 registration and $160 for materials for each exam.  Total cost: $1,580.

May 2010

Found out my Articling Requirement is waived.  But that I am required to take an in-person 3-day “Professional Conduct and Practice in Ontario” in Toronto, with a mystery date.

Took LSUC Barrister exam.

June 2010

Took LSUC Solicitor exam.  Estimated time for results: 6-8 weeks.

July 2010

Found out I passed Barrister and Solicitor exams.

Got the date for my “Professional Conduct and Practice in Ontario” course: December 2010.

December 2010

Attend mandatory 3-day “Professional Conduct and Practice in Ontario” course in Toronto (required for those exempted from articling).  Cost: $500.

January 2011

Attend LSUC call ceremony and get my license!  See: http://rc.lsuc.on.ca/jsp/licensingprocesslawyer/callToBarToronto.jsp.  Cost: Call to the bar fee of $250 + cost of renting proper court attire + celebration.

Total cost: $6,000+

There are many details in the links provided here, so peruse to your heart’s content.  Have a realistic picture of the timelines involved here: even the shortcuts may not be as short as you are hoping.  So: Good luck and happy studying!

Linelle S. Mogado, Esq.

B.Sc.(Env.), J.D.

Licensed in California

Anticipated call to Ontario Bar: January 2011

 

Comments

16 Responses to “The long road to call to the Ontario Bar”

  1. Margaret Hollis, Iqaluit on August 29th, 2010 6:39 pm

    Very informative; I’ve already sent it to a US-trained friend. Congrats on working your way through it all, and joining this profession in Canada.

  2. Linelle S. Mogado on August 30th, 2010 5:11 pm

    A friend raised a few questions after reading my post, and here are my responses:

    1. What is the examination process? Do they inform me of the time and date of the exams and I choose which ones I want to write?

    See here for more info: http://www.flsc.ca/en/foreignLawyers/ncaExaminations.asp. Once your NCA Application is reviewed, the NCA will tell you what exams you are required to pass. I was required to take Corporate Law, Canadian Administrative Law, Canadian Constitutional Law, and Canadian Criminal Law and Procedure. There is a set schedule every exam round, as you’ll see in this link. These four exams were set for the mornings of Days 1 through 4. I decided to take ‘em all. I know of others who decided to take 2 exams in one session, ie, January, and then the others at a later session, ie. June. So, it is up to you. And the timeline you would like to set for yourself.

    2. What exactly are the exams like? In the UK, I pretty much have to study and
    memorize the entire year and cannot have an open book (unlike here) which I have 8 questions and must answer 4 which vary from either essay or problem question.

    The exams are meant to reflect the experience of taking an exam at a Canadian law school. So check out this site for more on that: it’s going to be a key resource for you! In my view, memorization serves you only so well; you must be able to manipulate and apply the law to the facts you are presented with, in a well-written, and well-reasoned, methodical manner. All the law is there in the open books: what you do with it is what you’re being asked to show. I’m a big fan of practicing these writing skills well in advance of the big day, but other colleagues have told me it wasn’t necessary. Perhaps it is because I am a survivor of the California bar exam. It’s a three-day deal: two half-days of essays, two half-days of practice problem solving, and a full day of multiple choice. Hence, no problem with these exams.

    3. Do you know of any supplementary materials that can simulate an organized
    curriculum for us to use?

    You will find official curriculum syllabi here: http://www.flsc.ca/en/foreignLawyers/ncaExaminations.asp. Some are very thorough, but some are skimpy and vague. You can also browse the net for such resources, and this blog, of course!

  3. kara on September 2nd, 2010 4:00 pm

    I feel your pain. I am a veterinarian who attended Michigan State University, graduated with a bachelors and DVM and got licensed in Michigan. We moved to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and it took me a year to get licensed there. I don’t want to think about how much money it cost. Last year we moved to California (husband’s job) and my biggest nightmare started. California didn’t appreciate my many years of experience because I practiced part-time after my daughter (second child) was born and, GASP, I practiced in a foreign country. I am currently studying to retake my national boards and if I’m lucky enough to pass them I will be honored to take the California state boards. I find it all a ridiculous money grabbing waste of time but what else can I do with my degree and years of experience? Surely dogs and cats in California are not so different than those in Michigan and Ontario.

  4. haz on September 7th, 2010 7:42 pm

    An excellent post.. Thank you! I am licensed and practicing in Illinois but frequently fantasize about moving to Canada.

    May I ask whether you had a position lined up while going through the licensure process? How are US-trained lawyers received in Canada? Is it possible to get a job in a smaller law firm in Ottawa/Toronto or are there simply too many Candian lawyers for available positions (like here in the U.S.)? I realize you probably have leg up on the rest of us because you are in fact Canadian!

    Again thanks for your efforts and CONGRATS.

  5. Linelle S. Mogado on November 17th, 2010 9:32 pm

    My apologies for this belated reply! Thank you for your gracious congratulations. I must say, job seeking from afar is not an easy road. My first job search attempts were based on internet searches, and I heard that recruiters were the way to go (I heard ZSA had hooked up a few friends of friends of mine with their jobs). However, recruiters had zero interest in me: “try back when you’re licensed.” Hmmmph! So I had to hit that networking road pretty hard.

    Once I made contact with firms I was interested in, I realized that I was coming around at the ‘wrong’ time for recruitment. There’s a pretty set schedule that is similar to the timelines we see in the U.S. for recruitment, offers, etc. that is based around the articling schedule. I hear that many firms make these decisions over the winter, but I don’t know for sure. So I cannot easily comment on whether it’s easier to get positions here. When I crunched the numbers, I found out that per capita, there are roughly two times the number of lawyers in California than in Ontario. Theoretically, that bodes well, doesn’t it?

    For about half of the time I will have spent waiting for that magical day of “call”, I will have worked about a year in a non-lawyer position. I had to rely on the support of my loved ones to carry me though – much negotiated before I made the move. Networking is pretty key. The best way to do that is to be present in the city where you are headed, which I know is difficult when you’re employed in another city. Be prepared to give your 2-minute sales pitch any time. Networking takes guts and energy, but hey, you’re a lawyer or wanna-be, right? Make your case.

    For those on the ground already: As a friend suggested, check out the OBA (http://www.oba.org/) and look into volunteer opportunities with them or areas that you have a connection with or interest in. I have heard of an American-Canadian lawyers’ group in Toronto that I have yet to check out, and it’s an idea for lawyers from other countries as well. Look for lawyers from your law school alma mater – you never know where they might be lurking! The possibilities for networking are many. And it can be fun!

  6. Michelle on February 1st, 2011 11:21 am

    Thank you so much for this information. It was extremely helpful. I am also a Canadian, California-licensed attorney and I’m looking at the possibility of returning to Toronto.

    Have you been able secure a legal position yet? Do you think it was worth it?

    Thanks

  7. Neil on February 22nd, 2011 11:44 pm

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience. You’ve added more light at the end of the tunnel for me.

    God bless!

  8. Matt on March 14th, 2011 7:14 am

    Your timeline says that you started studying for the NCA exams in December 2009 and wrote them in January 2010. How did you do this?

    I assume you weren’t working at the time, but even then, 1.5 to 2 months to study for 4 exams feels like it would be very intense given the amount of reading required for each exam (I am working full-time and raising kids and so have given myself almost 3 months to study for one exam as I don’t think I could get through the reading in a shorter period).

  9. Jonathan on March 19th, 2011 5:46 pm

    I would like to get some advice on the formulation of a reference letter for the articling exemption including a sample letter if you have.

  10. Antoine on April 1st, 2011 12:23 pm

    Linelle,

    Great article, I am thinking about writing one myself and I must say it has been a long road. I wrote the exams this March in Ottawa so now I am just waiting for the results. I went to law school in Chicago and I am barred in Maryland and DC with 8 years of practice, so I am hoping to not have to article. I have found the job search to be a bit crazy and I agree that networking is going to be a major factor. Good luck with yours. Jonathan, I have severl samples of reference letters if you need some ideas.

    a

  11. Aditya Trivedi on April 17th, 2011 5:18 pm

    I have cleared NCA. Any clues on how to study for the Ontario bar. Do you have practice exam questions ?

    Aditya

  12. Jide on April 18th, 2011 4:05 am

    Hi,Linelle.
    Thanks for your very informative article. You said it was tough getting sample answers for the exam. Did you eventually succeed in getting some? If so where? Thanks.

  13. IRFAN MUGHAL on July 25th, 2011 2:03 am

    I am a lawyer from pakistan with 4 years experience and interested to practise here as a barrister and solocitor,I found this information very helpfull and pray for your long life and prosperity.

    irfan

  14. Judit Murphy on September 27th, 2011 10:01 pm

    Does anybody know who (besides usual banks) can fund NCA challenge exams? I have to write nine and cannot find funds.

  15. M Kay on December 12th, 2011 6:06 pm

    I am writing Fdns of Cdn Law NCA exam in jan 2011.Is some body help me in finding a good book or website?

  16. Linelle S. Mogado on December 28th, 2011 1:43 pm

    Thanks for the positive feedback on this article. My apologies to all who have sent me e-mails or posted on here awaiting a reply. I don’t reply to those who ask me questions that I have already answered here.

    As for indices, I don’t have any! So please don’t ask me for them. I deleted them all and wanted them gone for good. Try different, creative, online ways of finding a group.

    I don’t have sample practice exams for any of these exams. Look on the NCA website and try looking for law school samples.

    I did only start studying less than two months before my exams. I just read and read and did practice exams, but I had no kiddies or spouse to take care of. That would be more of a priority (and frankly, more fun). It was a bit of a bore, but there’s nothing like fear of failing to motivate you to bust ass. But even if you don’t pass, at least you do get another kick at the can.

    9 exams! My sympathies. There is funding available, but I don’t recall if it was for the NCA or the LSUC. Good luck in searching for this.

    The NCA website has the syllabi for all the exams. That is where you will find info on what is being tested.

    Good luck all, in 2012!