The long road to call to the Ontario Bar
Guest post by Linelle S. Mogado, Esq.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a summary of my timeline, with relevant links:
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.
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.
The FLSC determined that it would hold exams outside of its regular exam schedule in October 2009. I decided to wait.
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.
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.
Filed Articling Exemption Application. Cost: $168 + mailing cost.
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.
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.
Took LSUC Solicitor exam. Estimated time for results: 6-8 weeks.
Found out I passed Barrister and Solicitor exams.
Got the date for my “Professional Conduct and Practice in Ontario” course: December 2010.
Attend mandatory 3-day “Professional Conduct and Practice in Ontario” course in Toronto (required for those exempted from articling). Cost: $500.
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.
Licensed in California
Anticipated call to Ontario Bar: January 2011