Whether you see yourself as a trial attorney, in-house counsel or judge, you first need to get your hands on a law degree.
Canada has some fantastic law schools, but before you start your applications, there are four things you should be aware of:
1. You’ll need to complete a 3-year postgraduate degree before you can practice.
2. Canada has two different legal systems –
- In Québec, Civil Law, based on French Napoleonic Law, is practiced.
- In the rest of Canada, the legal system is based on the English Common Law Code. Canada has 25 law schools: 6 offer Civil Law and 19 offer Common Law Education
3. If you gain a law degree for a particular legal system, you will only be able to practice law in areas under that jurisdiction. If you become a practitioner of common law, e.g. you’ll be able to practice in Canada (aside from Quebec), the UK, India, the US and South Africa.
4. Some law schools may require fluency in French -
For law schools in Québec, as well as l’Université d’Ottawa, students must be fluent in French and consequently may be asked to pass the Test de Français international.
5. In order to pursue your postgraduate studies and begin your career as a lawyer, you will need to extend your Study Permit and gain a visa that allows you to stay in Canada. For more information on how to do this, see our Study in Canada: after graduation article.
Still interested? Good stuff! Here’s a general outline of the route to take:
1. Apply for an undergraduate degree
Any university degree is good preparation for law school, e.g. BA, BSc, BBA, BComm, BEng. BMus, BPHE, BKin etc.
2. Finish your undergraduate degree
Canadian undergraduate degrees are typically designed to be completed in four years of full-time studies. Most law schools in Canada require the completion of at least three years of your degree or a completed degree from an accredited, recognized higher education institution. Consult your intended law schools to find out their exact requirements. Does this mean you can switch after 3 years? I didn’t follow this paragraph, it feels like you are missing out a crucial detail.
3. Complete the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test)
The standard LSAT is held in many countries throughout the world and is held up to six times a year (September, November, January, March, June and July). It will test your reading comprehension and your ability to think logically and analytically. Many applicants write the test in June or July after third year or during the first term of their fourth year.
4. Apply to Law School
The success of your application will be determined by your grades, LSAT score, personal statement and other accomplishments. Many law schools also request reference letters. Some law schools, such as those in Ontario, are coordinated by an online Law School Application Service.
5. Earn your law degree
In Canada, the first-level law degree (e.g. Juris Doctor or ‘JD’) takes three years to complete. Most students begin law school by taking introductory courses in key areas such as Criminal Law, Constitutional Law and Contract Law, before specializing as they progress. Law schools also tend to offer a huge range of extracurricular activities through which students can gain valuable experience. Many students also try to find summer jobs in the legal field with, for example, legal aid, law firms, government legal departments and legal clinics.
6 .Become licensed to practice law
Nearly there! Once you’ve graduated from law school, there are two final steps:
Pass the provincial bar exam – the exam you take will usually depend on whether you want to specialize as a barrister or solicitor. Generally speaking, barristers are litigators, i.e. courtroom lawyers, whereas a solicitor’s work isn’t tied to the courts and instead involves assisting clients with all other legal matters.
Article – often, ‘articling’ involves working under the supervision of a licensed and qualified lawyer. This can usually be done through a variety of ways, e.g. with a private practice, Government office, legal clinic or in-house legal department.
Or, if you’re in Ontario:
Complete the Law Society of Ontario Law Practice Program (LPP) – the LPP of a four-month training course and a four-month work placement.
7. Get a job as a lawyer!
After all that hard work, it’ll finally be time to reap the rewards and step into your first job as a lawyer. If you’re choosing to stay in Canada, you’re likely to end up in one of the following three sectors:
- Law in the Public Interest – this may involve working for a public interest group, such as the Women’s Legal and Educational Action Fund, or doing legal aid work at a legal aid clinic.
- Private Practice – working in private practice means that you’ll have individual clients, which may be people or corporations.
- Government – this could involve working as a Crown Attorney prosecuting criminals or working for a ministry such as the Ministry of Health.