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Saba Viraney, a lawyer from India, knew she had to take additional courses to practice her profession in Canada. However, she didn’t expect her accreditation process to be so challenging and to take three years.

Viraney has a Bachelor of Laws degree from India and a Masters in International and Commercial Law from the United Kingdom. Before moving to Canada in 2002, she worked as a lawyer in India. “Even though in India we have the Common Law, for example tax laws and family laws are very different from these in Canada,” Viraney explains. “Though the concept and the basic principles are the same, a lot is specific for each country, so when you move, you have to go through all laws again.”

To start the accreditation process in Canada, Viraney first visited the website of NCA (National Committee on Accreditation). This website guided her through the whole process. First, she had to provide all her transcripts from the countries she had studied and also reference letters from the places she had worked. She was surprised to find out that the transcripts had to be sent directly from the institution that had issued them. “I was fortunate that my sister and my parents in India were able to help me in this,” Viraney says. “I would advise foreign trained lawyers who plan to immigrate to Canada to check the NCA website before coming. Because once you come here and realize that you have to get all those transcripts sent directly to the Committee from your institutions back home – that can be very challenging. It would be difficult to arrange and coordinate things if you are not there. Moreover, some institutions have never received such requests for sending transcripts  – and you have to explain to them and make them do what needs to be done.”

Viraney also advises that if you prepare well before coming to Canada, upon arrival you could have your credentials already assessed, so you could save time and avoid some frustration.

“If you prepare well before coming to Canada, upon arrival you could have your credentials already assessed, so you could save time and avoid some frustration.”

When NCA received all Viraney’s transcripts, it informed her which law courses she had to take so that her education would be equivalent to the Canadian LL.B. (Bachelor of Laws). After completing these courses, there were two important steps in her accreditation process – the bar exam and nine months of articling.

“Articling was the most challenging part,” Viraney says. ”It is not easy for a foreign trained lawyer to get an articling position. You have to ask people and find a professional who is willing to supervise you. In my case, I found someone to take me in the beginning, and later he helped me find another lawyer so I could finish my articling.”

While looking for a supervisor, Viraney faced a problem that internationally trained lawyers encounter when they start looking for jobs in Canada. “If you graduate from a Canadian university,” she explains, “you have your grades and feedback which employers consider when hiring people. But if you have studied in another country, the Accreditation Committee gives you just “pass” or “fail” – this is a big setback for immigrants.”

The difficulties didn’t discourage Viraney and after completing the accreditation process, she started looking for a job. She didn’t go to agencies but applied on popular job websites. There was another surprise – for a job that she applied in January 2009, she got a reply in September 2009. However, her effort and patience paid off and now she is a Barrister and Solicitor, with her own practice and she provides legal services for real estate, family law and wills. Her language skills in English, Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati enable her to help clients from different backgrounds.

“My start in Canada was not easy,” Viraney says. “I had nobody to help me, nobody to guide me. It was a process of trial and error. And I see other internationally trained lawyers experiencing the same. So in future I will be happy if I could guide newcomers, if I could be a mentor, if I could help my colleagues out.”

Lucy Slavianska